New DoE Travel Restrictions Could Affect SC12 and Beyond

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New conference travel and event-spending restrictions at the Department of Energy could have a profound effect on the research booths your see and the number of DoE people you meet at SC12 this November. While conference officials are downplaying the overall impact of these changes, it will be extremely challenging for the National Labs and other DoE exhibitors to pull off their research exhibits under these guidelines.

As outlined in a memo by Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel B. Poneman on July 6, 2012, the guidelines take effect immediately and will be also be part of the FY 2013 budget process:

  • Departmental spending exceeding $100K on a single event requires Deputy Secretary approval.
  • Overall DoE spending on a single conference is now limited to $500K. A waiver process is in place.
  • No more than 15 individuals can travel to an event from a single department.

The new policies come in the wake of the GSA travel scandal that had lawmakers in an uproar this past Spring. As the federal government’s real estate and supply agency, the GSA was highly criticized for spending $823,000 on a Las Vegas conference in October 2010. Further probes revealed a history of excessive spending and misconduct.

So where does this leave SC12? While most our questions to conference organizers were summarily directed to DoE, Communications Co-Chair Ian MacConnell said that no conference decisions around this issue have been made yet.

While the SC12 Committee is investigating contingency plans based on some level of reduced DOE participation, we anticipate that this will have minimal impact on the conference as a whole and on the overall attendee experience.

As for the potential impact on SC12 attendance numbers, MacConnell pointed out that U.S. federal agencies (DoE, DoD, NOAA, NASA etc.) represent less than 10 percent of participation in SC as a whole. While that may be true, you can be sure that the vendors who pay the bills for the conference with their large exhibits will be watching closely as this story continues to unfold.


  1. About time… As much as I enjoy the dog and pony shows at SC using my tax dollars, I often wonder why the DO (fill in the blank) agencies are there with so many people. It’s not like a hardware or software vendor that is trolling for customers or like a University trolling for students or research dollars.

    And let’s not even start in on why every DO agency needs their own hardware. I mean if the DOE can give hours away via INCITE to entities such as Dream Works and P&G, why can’t DoD/NOAA/NASA all be customers?


  2. These big events (and the many small events) are extremely important for our nation’s scientists (both the computational and the pure scientists.) There is no substitute for the ability to demonstate and share ideas and advancements first hand. Many, many great ideas have come from the conversations taking place at conferences such as the SC conference. It’s about sharing information and technology discussion. Limiting the ability of our scientific computing specialists to attend, share, and learn at these conferences is yet another hit to the declining position of U.S. technology leadership.

  3. J. Grahammy says

    As a government worker we need the tax payer support otherwise how would we learn about technology and get all of the free beer at the parties?

  4. I have been attending SC off and on since 2002. As a DoD contractor I have been told to attend by both my DoD customer as well as my DoD contractor boss. This conference has an extremely large number of DoX employees, military, GS types, and contractors of all types and sizes. It is like if you are not there, then you must not be a real player in the HPC business. This is often the story that is told by the HPC program manager to his senior executives. The big five HPC vendors are often know by the size of the parties they host rather than the size of the exhibit on the conference floor. But, it is not just the money spent at the conference there are goups that have annual budgets for this conference. If the group does not spend all of their budget in their year, then the members of the groups are given presents, expensive presents, purchased from the left over budget.. Much potential for waste fraud and abuse.

  5. Punish GAO, not those of us that can not go to conferences because of their foibles.