Agency Bans on Las Vegas, Orlando Visits Kick Up a Storm
Have no fear, traveling bureaucrats: In between your off-site meetings packed with team-building exercises, guest speakers and meetings with management consultants, a key lawmaker is fighting to ensure you get to squeeze in a visit to Mickey Mouse or the craps table.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) reacted angrily this week to recent news reports that the departments of Agriculture and Justice have avoided resort destinations including Orlando and Las Vegas in favor of less exciting cities like St. Louis, Denver or Minneapolis in order to avoid any negative press about taxpayer dollars footing the bill for meetings at lavish hotels or resorts.
Saying he was "absolutely floored," Nelson noted that Orlando, the Sunshine State's prime resort destination, has experienced an 8 percent drop in hotel bookings from last year.
"Talk about a double whammy in tough economic times, when we have seen tourism and business travel dropping like a rock," he said from the Senate floor on Monday.
The decision especially frustrates Nelson, because tourist-friendly cities in Florida and other resort locations often offer hotel rooms and air fares at considerably lower prices than other cities.
"It is one thing to avoid nonessential trips for the government to save taxpayers money, but it is taking it a little far when it is another thing... if it is legitimate travel and you then avoid certain cities just because they are where they are," Nelson said.
The senator plans to offer amendments either to the budgets of agencies with travel policies that steer business away from resort cities like Orlando or Las Vegas or else introduce an amendment to the Travel Promotion Act, a major bill still pending before Congress.
Such legislation may be unnecessary however, since a recent series of letters between White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Sin City's senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stated that federal policy does not dictate where government events should be held, but instead requires that costs and the reasons for travel be justified.
So breathe easy, government employees: You may still get to enjoy that Cirque de Soleil show after all.
| July 29, 2009; 2:29 PM ET
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