Lost conference costs more than dollars

Canceled Army show results in missed opportunities

The cancellation of the Army Information Technology Conference, which had been scheduled for June 6-8 in Orlando, Fla., will cost more than the money spent preparing for it.

The conference is the Army’s primary forum to showcase IT products and services. Generally, about 700 people attend, half from government and half from industry. Vendors demonstrate new products and equipment, while government and industry collaborate on better ways to organize contracts, arrange task orders and plan for the coming year.

Money already spent, the “sunk costs,” by both government and the private sector is not likely to be retrieved, said Dean Sprague, spokesman for the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO-EIS), which sponsors the conference. Many vendors had already shipped materials to Orlando.

“There’s no return on investment for them,” Sprague said. He acknowledged that some ill will on the part of industry over the last-minute cancellation was unavoidable.

But the greater cost is in missed opportunities, he said. The conference allows professionals who interact primarily through e-mail and phone calls to make personal connections. Ideas and initiatives often flow from there. Those connections are hard to quantify, he added.

The conference may be rescheduled for November, Sprague said. The cancellation resulted from severe budget shortfalls in Army Operations and Maintenance accounts. The Defense Department blames Congress for failing to pass the emergency supplemental funding bill.

PEO-EIS estimated the cost of canceling the conference to be $30,000 to $40,000. But the cost of going ahead with it would have been around $500,000.

The conference’s demise was a small part of large-scale spending cutbacks instituted across the Army late last month. Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody issued a memo May 26 mandating severe restrictions on spending from Army Operations and Maintenance accounts. The first phase of the cuts eliminated all nonessential travel, training and conferences.

The cancellation will create more work for vendors. Arthur Maxwell, IBM’s program manager for the Army’s Information Technology Enterprise Solutions–2 Services contract, said he had hoped to talk with customers about individual projects and overall solutions. “Where we would use the conference to set up specific opportunities, we now have to go out and do cold calls,” he said.

Michelina LaForgia, assistant project manager for the Army Small Computer Program, said she regretted the missed chance to meet with customers. Now more vendors will have to visit the ASCP office, while the program’s customers will have to do more legwork to find the right systems to meet their needs, she said. ASCP helps organizations within the Army select computer hardware and software.

Phase 2 of the Army’s overall spending cuts took effect June 6, freezing civilian hiring. But so far, implementation of the new rules has not caused widespread problems. An exceptions process is being used to define mission critical activities to include those that support combat soldiers, LaForgia said. She warned that Phase 3, which will halt all contract awards beginning June 15 if Congress does not pass the supplemental appropriations legislation by then, would have a greater impact.

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