A new report by a top travel industry association finds that most government travel — far from being wasteful — pays dividends for taxpayers and businesses.
The study — commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association — finds that government travel is cheaper and more efficient than similar travel by private-sector employees and helps boost the productivity of private-sector firms.
Government employees spend on average $185 per day while traveling for business. Private-sector employees average about $224 per day. On the operations and logistics side, government conference organizers typically spend $173 per attendee, while private-sector functions average $339 per attendees.
Conference spending and travel by government employees have increasingly come under scrutiny from regulators after a series of high-profile embarrassments by agency employees. The House is likely to pass a bill next week that would cap conference spending for government employees — and the Obama administration has ordered agencies to adopt similar guidelines.
“Taxpayers have lost all faith that their government has respect for their hard-earned money,” Rep. Darrell Issa said. The California Republican, who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and has been a frequent critic of wasteful conference spending, has moved several conference-related bills out of his committee.
The study estimated that in 2011, government travel had a $24.4 billion impact on the economy, had helped support more than 340,000 U.S. jobs, generated $14.5 billion in U.S. wages and $5.5 billion in tax revenue for local, state and the federal government.
The Travel Association study research found that canceling business travel for government employees can save money in the short term — but at the expense of long-term efficiency and the ability to deliver services to taxpayers.
The 2013 Military Health Systems Conference was canceled — but part of the point of the “streamline processes [is to] eliminate redundancies and reduce health care costs.” U.S. Travel’s research estimated that the cancellation cost taxpayers about $813,000.
“When federal employees travel, they’re delivering important services to taxpayers,” Erik Hansen, director of domestic policy at U.S. Travel, told POLITICO.
The study — which included a survey component — found that private-sector bosses also liked sending their employees to events at which they could interact with government regulators. The survey finds that 74 percent of private-sector managers liked the opportunity to meet with public-sector employees at conferences — and believed that such meetings boosted their firm.
In 2012, an inspector general report about a General Services Administration conference found “excessive and wasteful” spending. More recent, the Internal Revenue Service was found to have spent significantly on lavish getaways.