Federal scientists, unpack your bags. That's the message from Congress, which for a second time in a matter of weeks passed a bill that would severely limit the ability of federal scientists to attend scientific meetings.
The first travel ban came when Congress finally agreed on a Continuing Resolution (CR) on October 16 that allowed the federal government to reopen. In the legislative turmoil surrounding the end of the shutdown, an unknown member of Congress inserted language that turned into law what had been an Obama administration memorandum, limiting federal employee travel to conferences for the length of the CR. Last week, Representative Darrell Issa, whose Congressional district is just north of San Diego, included similar restrictions in a bill that was passed by the House of Representatives. If signed into law, the restrictions would be permanent.
The ASCB has been following the implications of the increasingly strict travel limitations on federal scientists, most recently in connection with National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists scheduled to present their research at the 2013 ASCB Annual Meeting. ASCB has appealed to the scientific directors of key NIH institutes to help as many NIH investigators as possible attend and present at the upcoming Annual Meeting. The Issa Amendment, though, would leave federal scientists permanently on the outside looking in at most scientific conferences, seminars, and meetings.
Now the ASCB has sent a letter to the U.S. Senate leadership, alerting them to the potentially disastrous impact of the professional isolation of federal scientists. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, ASCB Executive Director Stefano Bertuzzi wrote, "If this language were to become law, the ability of federal scientists to attend important scientific meetings connected to their area of research would be severely restricted and would adversely affect them and the work they do. This 'scientific sequestration' would compromise the quality of their work and would foster a detached and increasingly isolated federal research program."