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CEO DATELINE – USGS scientists must submit conference presentation titles for Interior Department review

June 18, 2018
By Lori Sharn

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Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey are facing more scrutiny if they wish to present research at two major association meetings. Conference presentations must advance the priorities of the Interior Department for the scientists to receive approval to attend the meetings, The Washington Post reported.

The two meetings subject to the new guidelines are organized by the Geological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union. GSA’s annual meeting is Nov. 4-7 in Indianapolis. AGU’s Fall Meeting will be Dec. 10-14 in Washington, D.C.

The guidelines state that employees must provide a detailed “employee justification” when applying for travel approval to attend the meetings. 

Interior Department spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort told the Post that budgets limit how many people can travel to such meetings: “If taxpayer dollars are being spent to send someone to a conference, we’d like some degree of confidence that their attendance will advance the department’s priorities.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s 10 priorities include “create a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt” and “sustainably develop our energy and natural resources.”

The Interior Department put a cap on how many employees could attend the 2017 AGU conference in New Orleans. As a result, 178 staffers attended, about half the usual number. 

AGU bills its conference—attended by more than 20,000 people—as the “largest Earth and space science meeting in the world.”

In a statement responding to news about the guidelines, AGU CEO Chris McIntee said scientific conferences enable critical knowledge sharing.

"We encourage Department of Interior (DOI) to support policies that allow scientists to freely attend such conferences and refrain from any actions that would restrict the flow of scientific information," McEntee said. "It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish for DOI to stifle scientific knowledge by stopping the nation’s scientists from making important connections and sharing their work with their colleagues.”