More Legislative Attacks on Meetings

Government Relations Associations Now July/August 2015 By: Chris Vest, CAE

New legislation proposed in the House once again targets conference spending by government employees.

Three years after the Obama administration adopted new rules for travel and conferences, associations are still working to explain the value of face-to-face meetings to policymakers concerned with rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in government spending.

There has been some progress to report, such as new guidance from the Office of Management and Budget earlier this year that gives federal agencies more flexibility to send government employees to meetings and conferences. The OMB memo also allows employees to seek preapproval of reoccurring conferences to prevent lengthy review processes that can discourage or prevent employees from applying for travel funds.

But, despite evidence that agencies are being held accountable for their conference spending, new legislation would further restrict federal employee attendance at mission-related meetings.

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) introduced his GSA Act of 2015 in April to cap government spending on travel and conferences and require detailed reporting of conference expenses for each federal agency. While it largely duplicates existing rules, Farenthold's bill includes provisions that require agencies to provide a cost-benefit analysis of holding a conference versus a teleconference and a justification for holding a conference in a specific location. ASAE has been meeting with lawmakers to encourage them to analyze whether additional restrictions are needed.

The existing OMB rules have helped agencies reduce travel spending by $3 billion compared to FY 2010 levels but have also dramatically limited the ability of government employees to attend educational meetings and conferences. Many associations that hold these events have seen their government attendance figures plummet over the past several years, limiting the flow of information between federal agencies and the industries they regulate.

ASAE and others will need to continue to discuss the value of meetings with policymakers in the months to come.

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "More on Meetings."]

Chris Vest, CAE

Chris Vest, CAE, is director of public policy at ASAE.