Government agency officials say this summer's sequestration is keeping them from conducting essential business and is leading to embarrassment at home and overseas.
The across-the-board budget cuts meant 30 percent reductions for agencies' travel budgets, reports The New York Times
However, while officials complain that the lack of travel time is affecting their work, lawmakers like Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said they could lead to "more sound judgment at these agencies about what is critical travel and what isn't."
He admitted that some employees do need to travel for their jobs, but most travel is "a perk" and not really necessary.
The cuts have meant reductions such as those to NASA, which had to pull out of the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs — even though representatives from France, Germany, and China were able to make the trip.
"We talk about being a leader in space exploration," said Elliot Pulham, the chief executive of the Space Foundation, which sponsored the NASA-free symposium in Colorado. "But it’s hard to be a leader if you don’t show up."
Travel cuts may even get worse next month, when President Barack Obama and lawmakers will once again face handling even more budget cuts.
The cuts have also caused problems for the airline industry in Washington, as government officials are being told to trade in plane tickets for buses or rental cars. Bus companies such as Megabus are seeing more riders between New York and Washington.
The cuts are beyond eliminating trips such as lavish ones taken by the Internal Revenue Service, including a 2008 junket
that cost taxpayers $2.8 million.
Instead, agencies are being urged to cut trips so that money can be spent to support "critical government functions such as national security, safety inspections, and law enforcement," said Steve Posner, the associate director for strategic planning and communications at the Office of Management and Budget.
In addition to NASA canceling its appearance at its own National Space Symposium, the United States Geological Survey withdrew all but 14 scientists from the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America, nearly shutting down the Salt Lake City conference in the process.
The conference ended up losing more than $15,000 in canceled hotel rooms, printing costs for new programs, and food and beverage fees, and 17 research papers were withdrawn.
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has also reduced travel for its 15,000 employees, and state and local officials are now being trained online for crisis and emergency communications, said spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds.
Even approved travel is being done more cost-effectively. One Air Force officer from the Pentagon told The Times that he has been ordered to continue traveling to a military base in Tennessee. However, instead of flying, he gets a rental car from Dulles International Airport in Washington and drives it to a Tennessee airport, a 10-hour trip that has cut his total bill from $1,600 for a round-trip flight to $350.
He said it's ironic to drive "to an airport to pick up a rental car to drive to another airport 500 miles away. It is kind of baffling."
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