Government-bashing has been a national pastime in the U.S. since before we became a nation. In fact, it's how we became a nation. What was the American Revolution but an epic example of government-bashing?
So, bash away. But let's be clear that bashing and governing are two different things. We expect our elected officials at some point to stop bashing the government they've become a part of and start governing. Alas, that doesn't always happen in the House of Representatives, which is bashing away at government travel spending.
Obviously, there's room for improvement in any large enterprise, but the federal government's travel policies, on the whole, have been pretty sound.
Yes, there have been abuses, even at the General Services Administration (GSA), which is supposed to coordinate and control this stuff. But we have long believed that the GSA's travel policies on pretrip planning, the use of approved vendors, per-diem spending limits and other controls are at least as effective as those in the private sector.
The U.S. Travel Association has some hard data to back up that belief. A study performed by Rockport Analytics found that in 2011, private-sector travel spending at meetings and conferences averaged $224 per day, per delegate. Government meetings attendees, on the other hand, spent $185.
Government hosting costs were also lower. Expenditures for meetings space, food and beverage, audiovisual gear, etc., came to about $173 per meeting delegate, while the private sector spent nearly twice that amount.
Alas, the report did not have the desired effect on the House, which last week passed H.R. 313, the Government Spending Accountability Act of 2013, so named to produce an abbreviation that would get in a dig at the GSA for its Western Regions conference of 2010. That was the meeting, in case you've forgotten, that gave rise to so many headlines when news of its excesses broke in 2012.
This meat-cleaver legislation is spiteful and arbitrary. One provision limits the travel spending of every government unit for the next four fiscal years to 70% of such expenses for fiscal 2010, regardless of whether the expenditures are justified.
Well, not "every" unit of government. It would not apply to the travel budgets of members of Congress. That's not governing. That's bashing.