CRS Told to Cut Back on Managers’ Retreats

Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:34pm

Along with the nearly $103 million the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to give the Congressional Research Service last week came a warning: Stop spending so much money on management retreats.

The agency, which is under the jurisdiction of the Library of Congress, spent about $68,000 on retreats in fiscal 2006. And that’s simply too much, according to the committee, which used the report accompanying the legislative branch appropriations bill to order CRS officials to stop the off-site practice.

“It has come to the Committee’s attention that CRS has been holding annual management retreats at expensive off-site locations,” the report language reads. “These meetings can and should be held locally, particularly in times of severe budget constraints. The Committee strongly objects to this practice and directs that it be discontinued.”

The agency will comply with the committee’s order, LOC spokesman Matt Raymond said Tuesday.

“CRS follows all Congressional directives, as does the Library of Congress, and we’ll follow the directions in the appropriations bill, and we will hold a general planning meeting on-site,” Raymond said.

Senior leadership officials at CRS have held strategic planning meetings in the fall of each year for years, Raymond said. The meetings are designed to review the agency’s performance and prepare for the upcoming year.

Raymond pointed out that many LOC agencies host meetings outside of Washington, D.C., for a variety of reasons, citing, for example, employees of the Office of Strategic Initiatives, who frequently travel to meet with partners around the country.

But CRS spent more money on retreats in fiscal 2006 than any other agency under LOC jurisdiction, according to government documents.

In September 2006, CRS traveled to Glen Allen, Va., for a three-day retreat to develop management initiatives and a communications policy while planning for the 110th Congress. The trip, which took place at the Virginia Crossings Resort, cost $39,357 — nearly $20,000 more than the Office of the Librarian spent on a retreat in May 2006 designed to develop the goals and strategies for the LOC’s 2008-13 strategic plan.

The Librarian’s retreat cost $19,952 and took place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the District. Meanwhile, the Copyright Office took a $10,000 trip to Warrenton, Va., in February 2006, while the Office of Strategic Initiatives visited Warrenton in October 2006 at a cost of $16,756, the documents show.

In October 2005, CRS traveled to the Kingsmill Resort and Spa in Williamsburg, Va., for a three-day retreat. That trip cost $28,783, more than $7,000 beyond what the Office of Strategic Initiatives spent on a trip to Baltimore in December 2004. In July 2005, the Copyright Office spent $9,240 on a planning session in Warrenton, while the Law Library visited Annapolis, Md., in December 2004 for just below $2,700.

Those discrepancies necessitated including the language in the bill, according to an aide for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch.

At the markup of the bill in full committee last week, subcommittee ranking member Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) thanked Landrieu for including the warning language in the bill.

“We found that the CRS was spending tens of thousands of dollars for retreats outside Washington each year,” Allard said. “Two retreats took place in [fiscal] 2006, even though a reduction in force was ongoing.”

That RIF began in 2005 and officially ended in March. It affected 59 employees at the agency, with some accepting buyouts and early retirement offers and others taking other positions at the Library at varying pay grades.

Dennis Roth, president of the Congressional Research Employees Association, criticized the CRS for the RIF at a May hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee legislative on the branch.

Roth testified that the RIF severely hurt morale among CRS employees and hindered the level of work produced by the agency, as employees are now forced to spend time handling administrative tasks and internal reports.