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SPIE leaders commend improvements in U.S. government travel policy

Common-sense reforms will aid in reducing bureaucracy, maintaining accountability

28 November 2016

BELLINGHAM, Washington, and WASHINGTON, DC, USA — Today, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) took action to ensure uniform improvements to U.S. government (USG) conference travel policy through a revision to the M-12-12 memo. This is a much-needed change for the many U.S. government scientists whose work has been impeded by some unintended consequences in implementing the original travel guidance memo.

"SPIE and other scientific societies have continued to advocate for scientists employed by the federal government since the now four-year-old restrictions on travel was put into place," said Jennifer Douris, Government Affairs Director for SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and a leader among those advocating for improvements.

The revision released today was posted by the OMB on the White House website.

"As demonstrated in a March Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, many unintended consequences have resulted since the M-12-12 travel guidance was put into place," Douris said. "One example of the impact is extremely long approval times for travel to scientific and technical conferences, which is particularly impactful to scientists who need to submit papers and commit to presenting their research well in advance of a conference."

While this effort has had some success — the National Institutes of Health and Department of Energy have eased the way for scientists to resume presenting research to their peers — Douris told the Washington Post in May that "the reforms are patchy, and they're not consistent."

"The inability to participate in technical conferences both in the U.S. and abroad diminishes the researcher's ability to learn about the latest developments and pivot rapidly to take cost-effective advantage," SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs told a gathering of scientists in 2014. "Reducing access by government employees to emerging research and connections with the academic and industrial science and technology communities hinders scientific discovery, as government science has always been vital for photonics innovation. By participating in scientific conferences, government personnel influence the research agenda to benefit the nation."

Arthurs commended today's action, saying "these common sense reforms put forward by OMB in the revised M-12-12 memo will go a long way to improving the travel approval process, while still maintaining responsible accountability and transparency over government resources."

He also emphasized the important contributions of numerous members of the SPIE community who communicated with Members of Congress and others about the importance of a reasonable  process for approval of travel for government employees to scientific conferences. "Photonics community volunteers shared very compelling examples that clearly illustrate the importance of information exchange to industry and to the nation," Arthurs said.

SPIE President Robert Lieberman, president of Lumoptix LLCand long-time member of the steering committee for SPIE Defense and Commercial Sensing, stressed the importance of the OMB's latest action toward ensuring U.S. technology leadership and national security.

"Throughout my career, I have seen time and again just how crucial it is for government scientists, researchers, engineers, and program managers to meet in person and collaborate with photonics industry professionals," Lieberman said. "Events such as SPIE Defense and Commercial Sensing are gatherings where hundreds of the very best scientists and engineers in the world come to a single place, for a limited time, to discuss the very latest technological breakthroughs and research findings.

They provide a unique environment and invaluable opportunities in which to share knowledge, discuss needs, and learn about new capabilities. The innovative solutions and professional connections that arise from these forums make our communities more secure, provide new life-saving capabilities for first responders, help protect soldiers in the battlefield, and enhance our ability to monitor and mitigate impacts of natural disasters."

Lieberman stressed the importance of  a uniform and transparent process for approval for government employees to attend conferences. "Today's reforms should help agency managers to ensure that researchers have the knowledge to stay at the top of their game," he said. "This is good for our government scientists, good for U.S. industry, good for photonics, and good for our nation."

'By participating in scientific conferences, government personnel
influence the research agenda to benefit the nation.'

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, an educational not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based science, engineering and technology. The Society serves nearly 264,000 constituents from approximately 166 countries, offering conferences and their published proceedings, continuing education, books, journals, and the SPIE Digital Library. In 2015, SPIE provided more than $5.2 million in support of education and outreach programs. www.spie.org


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