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AAS Statement on the Impact of Federal Agency Travel Restrictions on Scientific Conferences

Adopted 27 March 2013.

The American Astronomical Society and its six divisions (Planetary Science, High Energy Astrophysics, Solar Physics, Dynamical Astronomy, Historical Astronomy, and Laboratory Astrophysics) are deeply concerned about the impact of the Administration’s new conference travel restrictions on the scientific productivity and careers of researchers who are Federal employees and contractors.

Scientific meetings and conferences are a principal mechanism for researchers, students, and educators to facilitate and strengthen their interaction and collaborations with peers in their field, thereby advancing the state of knowledge in that field. Scientists who are Federal employees or contractors play a critical role in all fields of science and engineering, so the Federal agency mission suffers when they, and any students collaborating with them, are unable to travel to relevant conferences.

In response to guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget on implementation of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 sequestration, many agencies have issued new travel restrictions for employees, contractors, and grantees for the rest of FY 2013. For example, NASA has effectively capped conference attendance at 50 employees and contractors and prohibited all attendance at foreign conferences. Given the mission need for NASA personnel to regularly meet with international collaborators, we believe our international leadership in space will be undermined by this prohibition.

While conferences occurring in the remaining six months of FY 2013 will be severely impacted by these new directives, our deeper concern is the likelihood that the restrictions and reduced conference travel spending will become standard policy going forward. We agree that all government travel expenditures should be subject to vigorous review and oversight, but we urge the Administration to consider carefully the harm that these top-down restrictions could cause the U.S. research enterprise and our international standing.

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