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Analysis: Following Scandals, Congress Targets Federal Travel Budgets

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Alex Bolton, senior staff writer with The Hill newspaper.

Employees at the General Services Administration have come under fire this month after an investigation detailed more than $800,000 spent on a GSA training conference. Now Florida Congressman Dennis Ross wants to slash the entire federal government's travel budget — affecting employees across our region and around the country. Rebecca Blatt spoke with Alex Bolton — senior staff writer for The Hill newspaper — about the potential impact of the proposal.

How does Congressman Ross argue this is the thing to do now?

"Ross makes the argument that in the day and age of Skype, Facetime, the Internet that there is no need for federal employers to be spending $15 billion a year on travel. He says that's a luxury, and he says, at a time when the government needs to be cutting its spending levels to deal with the deficit, everyone needs to make some sacrifices, and that includes federal employees."

How big an impact would this make?

"Not a big impact. His proposal would reduce federal agency travel budgets by 50 percent for the next two fiscal years. He estimates that federal agencies are spending $15 billion a year on travel, so if you cut that in half, that would be $7.5 billion a year, and a total of $15 billion in savings. When you consider that the federal deficit is over $1 trillion, that is a grain of sand, really."

Despite that, why is he pushing forward with this?

"Republicans make the argument that every little bit counts. Democrats are making that argument too. For instance, President Barack Obama is pushing the Warren Buffett rule, which would establish a floor 30 percent tax rate for millionaires. He says that, while that wouldn't affect the deficit either, at least it's a step in the right direction. Ross is saying that while, yes this proposal to slash federal employee travel budgets would be small, at least it would be a step in the right direction."

How much support do you think this will gather?

"This could have legs. Momentum is building on the Hill that is quite critical of federal employees and what they do on trips. There was an uproar over the GSA conference in Las Vegas that cost more than $800,000, there has been an uproar about the Secret Service agents partying with prostitutes in Colombia. The Republicans for the last two years have been pushing for cuts to the federal workforce to pay for various proposals. So this adds to the argument that federal employees are not the best way to spend taxpayer resources. The federal workforce should be cut, and the trips and conferences that they take and schedule shouldn't cost so much money."

Democrats have often opposed Republican efforts to scale back the federal government. Do you expect them to fight to defend current travel budgets?

"I think they will defend it, because Democrats believe in the efficacy of the federal government and they have resisted many of the Republican proposals this Congress to slash the federal workforce, to freeze pay in other proposals. So I think the Democrats will resist this, but given some of the news items this year, it may be politically uncomfortable for them to take a very hard line. In the grand scheme of things, there are bigger fish to fry, so this may get forgotten or left by the wayside as Democrats and Republicans battle over the bigger issues of extending the Bush tax cuts and extending appropriations bills to pay for government operations for the next year."

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