Travel and Meetings

Travel and Meetings

“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

After more than four years of work to educate Congress and the Obama administration about the value of government employee attendance at association meetings, ASAE continues to see perceptions trending toward the positive on this important issue.

The administration’s self-imposed restrictions on conference and travel spending expire at the end of Fiscal Year 2016. ASAE and the association community support changes to agency guidance that reduce the paperwork requirements for agency travel and attendance at association conferences.

There continues to be evidence that Congress is more understanding of the need for face-to-face meetings between government employees and their counterparts in the private sector. In March 2016, Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), along with 13 other members of Congress, sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Controller David Mader defending the value of federal employee attendance at meetings. The letter stated, “We write to convey our serious concerns about the detrimental impact that the Office of Management and Budget’s overly restrictive policies on federal agency travel and conference participation have had on agency productivity and collaboration between public and private sectors.”

Agency officials are also hinting that they could relax some of the rules they have been adhering to since 2012. Andrew Mayock, the administration’s nominee for a top job at OMB, testified at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in June that the budget agency needed to strike “the right balance” between safeguarding against wasteful spending and allowing more government employees to attend conferences. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter also recently told The Washington Post that “excessive restrictions on conference participation and attendance by DoD personnel have become counterproductive” and that he is concerned about DoD employees getting the professional development they need to do their jobs.

In February, ASAE participated in a meeting with Regina Kearney, a senior advisor with the Office of Federal Financial Management within OMB. Kearney has been with OMB since the restrictions imposed in 2012 were first conceived, and she is well aware of ASAE’s position on the restrictions and their impact on government attendance at conferences in recent years. In the February meeting, Kearney reported that OMB is in fact looking at changes to the directive on travel and conference spending. The administration is looking to potentially change the funding level for federal agencies’ travel and conference spending, reduce the paperwork burden for agencies, and create a preapproval process for some meetings attended by government employees.

ASAE will continue to monitor this issue closely.