Congress Puts New Limits on Government Travel to Conferences

At Experient, we’ve been closely following the fallout from the infamous 2010 GSA training conference in Las Vegas and the impact of recent legislation on the travel and meetings industries. In a just few short weeks, there have been a significant number of cancelled meetings and events across the country, and associations have been hit particularly hard. James Clark, CAE, Senior Vice President of Public Policy at the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) sent an email to members of ASAE’s Political Action Committee explaining the new legislation and stating his concern for it’s potential ramifications for conferences and events within the association community. He writes:

“Outraged by the General Services Administration (GSA) spending scandal that broke a couple of weeks ago, the House and Senate separately passed legislation yesterday that imposes new spending limits and reporting requirements for all government employees attending meetings and conferences.

Although the event that triggered the congressional scrutiny was a GSA-sponsored employee training conference that took place in Las Vegas in 2010, several of the provisions passed by both chambers yesterday appear to extend to non-government conferences as well, including those held by for-profit companies, trade associations, professional societies, charities, foundations and other private sector organizations.

The bills would limit the number of conferences federal agencies can hold annually and the amount agencies can spend on each event — no more than $500,000.

More relevant to the private sector, however, the provisions also:

  • cap non-military spending to attend conferences at 80 percent of fiscal 2010 levels,
  • limit the number of government employees who can attend international conferences, and
  • limit participation by federal agencies to one conference sponsored by an organization per year.

This last provision could be interpreted to mean, for example, that if an agency employee attends one conference held by an association, no one else from that agency could attend any other events held by that association for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The language also requires agencies to post online at the beginning of each quarter a report on each conference for which the agency paid travel expenses during the preceding three months. The report is to include itemized expenses paid by the agency; the primary sponsor of the conference; the location of the conference; copies of any speeches or presentations given; and the total cost of any conference that had government speakers.

All of these provisions have broad implications for associations and other sponsors of conferences that include government speakers or attendees, and could discourage the necessary dialogue between government employees and the private sector.

The language that applies to conference spending is identical in both chambers, but was attached to two very different bills. The House added the provision to the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, known as the DATA Act, which would establish uniform reporting standards for federal spending and set up a single website where interested parties can research how all federal agencies and departments spend federal funds. That bill, including the provisions limiting travel to conferences, passed the House on voice vote yesterday afternoon.

The Senate attached identical language restricting conference spending to the postal reform bill that it cleared yesterday 62-37, also by voice vote.

The House version of postal reform has cleared the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, but has not yet been brought to a floor vote. There is also a version of the DATA Act that has been introduced in the Senate, but that bill has not passed that chamber yet either.

ASAE is concerned about the new restrictions on conference spending and the potential overreach into conferences sponsored by associations and other non-governmental organizations. As we obtain more information about the provisions and the intent of Congress in this area, we will share it with the association community.”

How will this new legislation impact meetings and events for your organization? Post a comment on our blog and tell us about it.

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1 Response to Congress Puts New Limits on Government Travel to Conferences

  1. If the GSA only held itself to the same stringent criteria it puts all its potential vendors through (like the hoops we had to go through to become GSA approved to work with government agencies) this would not have ever been an issue for them.

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