Taxpayers Billed $94K to Fly Scientists to Cyber Workshop in Vietnam

July 10, 2013 - 9:26 AM

Vietnam iPad

Man in Hanoi logs onto his iPad in 2012 (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) - A team of U.S. scientists will spend more than $94,000 of federal taxpayer money on travel costs when they attend a cyberinfrastructure workshop in Vietnam later this year instead of using existing technology to hold the conference online.

Cyberinfrastructure is the all-encompassing term given to databases, microchips, and the larger Internet universe that allows individuals to share data across multiple platforms worldwide.

The one-year $94,432 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and its Division of Advanced CyberInfrastructure was awarded on March 22, 2013.

According to the grant abstract, "the NSF funds will support travel for U.S. scientists and graduate students working with collaborators in the countries of the LMR” (Lower Mekong Region, which includes Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma) “and/or collaborating with counterparts in the region, including those from across many NSF divisions."

The workshop will focus on “forming and enhancing” opportunities for collaboration between scientists in the U.S. and their counterparts in Southeast Asia, developing and maintaining cyberinfrastructure in the region, and establishing rules for research practices there as well.

The overseas conference  is being organized by individuals from Indiana University, the PRAGMA project, the Network Startup Research Center (NSRC) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

Principal investigator James Williams of Indiana University said in the grant abstract that the workshop's broader impacts will "include increasing participation by researchers from countries of the LMR in international science and engineering projects."

Neither Williams nor a spokeswoman for the NSF responded to questions posed by CNSNews.com.

The work of these scientists will be in addition to a larger, multi-million-dollar initiative by the U.S. State Department.. The goal of that initiative is to “enhance cooperation in the areas of environment, health, education, and infrastructure development"  between the United States and countries in the Mekong River region, including “a web-based ‘Virtual Secretariat’ to enhance coordination and planning.”

The Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) was launched after a July 23, 2009 meeting between then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Foreign Ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam in Thailand. Myanmar joined the initiative in July 2012.

A July 2011 press release on the State Department website announced that LMI received $221.25 million in funding in 2011.