“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.
From 2012 through 2016, restrictions on travel and conference spending severely curtailed government employee attendance at association meetings and conferences across the country. Not only did this impact associations’ conference registration numbers; it also cut off an important dialogue between the public and private sectors and denied thousands of government workers access to continuing education, skills training, and best practices for their profession. As the new administration considers guidance on conference and travel spending for federal agencies, it’s important that the value of mission-related, face-to-face meetings is taken into account.
Last fall, the Obama administration relaxed guidelines on federal employee attendance at conferences. The updated guidance issued in late November 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.
This update provides many of the process changes that members of the association community have been asking the administration to make since 2012. ASAE and the association community support changes to agency guidance that reduce the paperwork requirements for agency travel and attendance at association conferences. It’s unclear whether this guidance will survive in the Trump administration, which has signaled a strong interest in curbing government spending.
While we’ve seen real progress in terms of senior government officials and lawmakers recognizing the value of meetings, we’ll need to continue to emphasize and cultivate this understanding with the Trump administration.
Lastly, while border security and screening of travelers is important, ASAE believes security concerns need to be balanced by the need to facilitate international travel to meetings and conferences in the U.S. President Trump’s revised travel ban could have a chilling effect on international travel to the U.S. in general. The revised executive order on travel raises the possibility that countries beyond the six that are temporarily banned may be forced to provide additional security information to the U.S. government to support U.S. visa and other immigration determinations. ASAE’s position is that, ideally, a balance must be struck between the need for appropriate vetting standards and the need to facilitate legitimate travel to the U.S.