Efforts to limit feds' conference attendance meet opposition

More than 800 organizations are up in arms about new proposed legislative language that restricts federal employees from attending conferences, insisting it would hurt the dialog between government and private industry. However, the bills that contain the measures are moving closer to becoming law.

In a May 4 letter to Congress, the American Society of Association Executives and more than 800 associations urged lawmakers to consider revisions to amendments that limit government employees from attending meetings and conferences organized by associations, nonprofits and other industry groups. These amendments were included in the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act and the 21st Century Postal Service Act. The DATA act was passed April 25 by the House, and the other bill was passed the same day by the Senate.

ASAE said it supports Congress’ effort to promote greater transparency and accountability in spending by limiting government-sponsored conferences and travel expenses for federal employees. However, the language would also exclude federal employees’ participation in non-governmental meetings and conferences as well, the letter stated.

“The dialog that takes place at these meetings between government and the private sector is essential to the development of informed policymaking that facilitates economic growth and job creation,” the letter stated. “The dangers of government operating in a vacuum – with fewer opportunities to learn and exchange information with private industries in a conference or meeting setting – are too great to ignore.”

The amendments also prohibit agencies from spending money on more than one conference sponsored or organized by an organization during any fiscal year, unless the agency is the primary sponsor and organizer of the event. ASEA and the other associations also opposed the broad definition of “conference” meaning “every conference held by an association, corporation or virtually any other non-governmental organization,” and suggested revising the definition to a meeting sponsored by one or more agencies.

Under these amendments, agencies are required to post online a report on each conference for which the agency paid travel expenses and information  including related expenses, who organized the event, and where it was held. If the organizer is a federal agency, the agency would have to justify the location of the event.

ASEA said the language in the amendments could be easily changed to allow federal employees to attend educational events held by nongovernmental organizations.

This is not the first time lawmakers have taken steps to prevent federal employees from attending specific gatherings. In September 2011, the Office of Government Ethics proposed a rule that would prevent feds from attending lobbyist-sponsored social events such as cocktail parties and movie screenings.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Tue, May 22, 2012

I work in research, therefore travel to conferences to make presentations of my research, collaborate with colleagues, and listen to the latest ongoing research. It is a vital component of our organization. I am always amazed at how little understanding legislators have of government agencies and their functions.

Fri, May 11, 2012

When COngess comes clean on their investments and transparent on their funding, benefits, free trips, bOnuses, GIFTS, etc then they can throw the first stone! What a pile of hypocritical uneducated fools!

Fri, May 11, 2012 Navy Engineer

The Navy is already here.

All managers down to 1st level at my activity have been told to not sign travel orders that mention the word "conference". (This direction was a cost saving measure and was propagated 3-weeks before the GSA fiasco.)

Two 300-man conferences have already been cancelled. (These conferences aligned IAM's - computer security professionals to ensure consistent implementation and enforcement of policy). The conference cost for a 300-person conference easily exceeds $500K (300 people x 3 days x $100/hr-labor x 8 hr/day + any travel).

Fri, May 11, 2012

Congress probably thinks the rest of the Federal employees use First-Class air travel and hotels like they do. They don't want anyone to have the same benefits as they do.

Fri, May 11, 2012 Puregoldj Bethesda, MD

Another stupid over-reaction in Congress to a rather stupid GAO conference in Las Vegas. As usual, bozos in Congress want to impress people that they are doing something so they do the "nuke the mosquito" routine. I sometimes go to program management and IT governance conferences (I am actually a contractor), to which many of the participants are government people. These conferences, most often, just one day, in Washington, DC, deal with how to better and more efficiently manage projects and portfolios, how to make the most out of reduced budgets, cooperation across agencies to save money and resourcces, etc. Gee, we wouldn't want our Federal people going to events like that, would we (they might get free coffee!!!)?

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