“As the association community depends on a viable travel and tourism industry and vice versa, ASAE supports advancing domestic and international travel initiatives that balance the need for homeland security with the business needs of associations. ASAE also acknowledges the particular needs of the meetings industry and understands the importance of sustaining fundamental relationships when negotiating, developing and executing events.” – ASAE Board Approved Position Statement #10
Federal Employee Travel to Conferences and Meetings
Face-to-face meetings are the lifeblood of associations and essential to advancing the professional development of our workforce. No matter the industry, meetings and conferences are where knowledge and expertise are shared and successful collaborations are started. For associations, where a sense of shared purpose drives the mission and member engagement, meetings are crucial to business success.
The meetings industry is also critical to the U.S. economy, contributing nearly $122 billion in direct expenditures and supporting 1 million jobs, according to research conducted by the Meetings Mean Business coalition.
After more than five years of work to educate Congress and two administrations about the value of government employee attendance at association meetings, ASAE continues to see perceptions trending toward the positive on this important issue.
Last fall, the Obama administration relaxed guidelines on federal employee attendance at conferences. The updated guidance issued in November 2016 by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reflected changes to the rules issued by the White House in 2012 that drastically reduced government travel after inappropriate conference spending by federal agencies was first reported and investigated by Congress.
The updated M-12-12 memo makes three major changes to the conference approval process. First, the memo focuses on approval and oversight of agency-sponsored or agency-hosted conferences and not outside conferences. This provides agencies with more flexibility for approval. The memo also allows for pre-approval of known recurring conferences, especially those not sponsored by the government. Finally, the updated memo does not extend the funding caps that expired at the end of the 2016 fiscal year.
This update provides many of the process changes that members of the association community have been seeking since 2012. ASAE and the association community support changes to agency guidance that reduce the paperwork requirements for government employee travel to and attendance at association conferences.
In June 2017, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney issued a memo to federal agencies proposing to roll back the Obama administration guidelines. Congress would still have to eliminate the sections within appropriations that codify some reporting requirements from the M-12-12 memo—an action recommended in Mulvaney’s memo and in the president’s budget.
While there has been significant progress in recognition of the value of meetings by senior government officials and lawmakers, ASAE will continue to emphasize and cultivate this understanding with the Trump administration.