GSA ponders offering new contract to cut conference costs

Conferences have been under scrutiny for some time, and the crush of sequestration's forced budget cuts only intensifies the pressure.

GSA Expo 2012

The GSA Expo, a bustling event in 2012, is canceled for 2013 as the agency tries to cut costs. (GSA photo)

Editor's note: This story was modified to correct the planned location of GSA Expo 2013, which GSA decided to cancel.

The General Services Administration may create a new Multiple Award Schedule program to aid agencies in managing meetings and conference events in light of budget constraints, administration memos and congressional legislative efforts to keep a close eye on spending.

GSA’s idea—the Meetings Management Program (MMP)—would offer a disciplined, enterprise-wide approach to managing conferences and events, including the activities, processes, suppliers and data regarding the meetings. The program would aim to save money, mitigate risk and improve meetings overall. The scope of the services, or level of complexity an agency orders, would be based on each agency’s own requirements.

The program would "allow agencies to hire a contractor who can consolidate and centralize their agency’s meeting management capabilities," GSA officials wrote in a request for information released March 1. A meetings management contractor can improve negotiations, recommend policy and guidance, establish internal controls, and leverage conference spending to minimize costs.

The RFI notes that event management services have "been adopted in the corporate world," and seeks feedback on how such a program might fare in the federal market.

"A MMP would afford a government agency the ability to tailor meetings management to meet their needs while controlling meeting spend, and consolidating meeting and event planning into a centralized planning office," according to the RFI. "MMP offers a comprehensive approach to what has been a decentralized function."

The proposed program is a reaction to several legislative proposals, and an Office of Management and Budget memo from May 2012, that came after GSA went through its congressional beating on overspending on a Las Vegas conference. OMB ordered agencies to establish a senior review of all planned conferences, to approve and disclose spending greater than $100,000 on a single event, and to prohibit spending of more than $500,000 for a single conference.

The RFI also mentions the Government Spending Accountability Act and the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act. The House passed the two bills, but neither cleared the Senate before then end of the last Congress. Former Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced the 21st Century Postal Service Act, which also included conference spending provisions. That measure passed the Senate, but not the House.

As GSA considers the new program, the agency’s Chief Administrative Officer Cynthia Metzler testified on Capitol Hill Feb. 27 about her agency’s own efforts to curb excessive spending on conferences. Through fiscal 2012, GSA’s policies have helped save more than $28 million in travel and transportation costs, Metzler told House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service, and the Census Subcommittee.

GSA has reformed its travel policies to reflect GSA Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini's mission of rooting out wasteful spending. "GSA has put in place strict internal travel and conference policies to reduce costs, provide strong oversight, and ensure that travel only occurs when necessary," Metzler said.

On Feb. 22, GSA announced it had canceled its annual GSA Training and Expo for 2013. It would have been in Orlando. GSA made its decision "after carefully reviewing the projected spending and attendance for this year’s conference," according to an agency statement, in order to use "our resources responsibly."

NEXT STORY: 100,000 feds pledge Telework Week

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