On November 25, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued an update to Memorandum M-12-12. The updated guidelines replace the existing regulations that severely restricted federal employee travel to scientific conferences. The revisions are generally positive and there is language noting the importance of science and technology conferences to federal agency missions. In addition, the new language allows for delegation of travel approvals to “appropriate officials” within agencies instead of senior staff, faster approvals, and the pre-approval of travel to recurring conferences. Finally, the memo refocuses the oversight of managing travel expenses and approvals on conferences hosted by federal agencies. In other words, OMB will no longer require agencies to provide pre-approval for federal employees to travel to conferences or meetings hosted by non-government entities which should remove many of the barriers currently faced by federal staff. Agencies will also no longer have to report their expenditures for travel to non-federal conferences/meetings. That being said, agencies will still be required to keep a close eye on their travel expenses and may elect to keep some of their existing processes in place even with the new guidance.
The memo also includes several references to the impact of the regulations on the scientific community, as follows:
- “It is critical we continue to root out wasteful spending while also ensuring that these steps do not impede on our nation's civil servants, who are in many cases the world's leading scientists, ability to engage their counterparts outside of the Federal Government, participate in activities that enhance their skills and contribute expertise to the larger professional communities, and enhance their overall ability to deliver upon their missions and breakthrough advancements in medicine and science. Conferences play an important role in the Federal Government, whether by enabling the sharing of knowledge among large groups, bringing together dispersed communities, or providing opportunities for interaction, collaboration and presenting cutting-edge work.”
- “These changes also respond to challenges agencies faced as a result of OMB Memorandum M-12-12, including reduced opportunities to perform useful agency functions, present scientific findings and innovations, train, recruit and retain employees, or share best practices.”
- “As each agency reviews its travel and conference-related activities, it is critical to continue to recognize the important role of mission-related travel and conferences in supporting operations. Given the unique travel and conference needs of each agency, there are circumstances in which physical co-location is necessary to complete the mission. These circumstances may include, but are not limited to, collaborations in the scientific community, unique training events for the law enforcement community, or the need to perform formal inspections as part of an agency's oversight and investigatory responsibilities.”
This outcome is the result of many years of advocacy beginning in late 2012 after the original Memorandum M-12-12 was issued. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), of which the Teratology Society is a member, has been a leader in an effort with other organizations in the scientific community to lobby for changes in the regulations to address concerns of many FASEB societies.
The entire text of the updated memo from OMB is available here for reference.