Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2018

Cover Story

Meetings Industry Counters
Uproar Over Government Waste

Steady improvement in business travel and meeting numbers in 2011 led many in the industry to predict a strong 2012. Hotel demand, occupancy and rates may be up, and 48,700 travel-generated jobs added in the first four months of this year, but the economy softened in the first quarter. The big news, however, swirled around government meetings under fire.

Congress acts. While their separate bills need to be reconciled, the United States Senate and House of Representatives each voted to freeze government spending on meetings. It is the direct result of the uproar following an inspector general report outlining waste and abuse at a 2010 General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas. Daniel Tangherlini, acting GSA administrator who only began his tenure on April 3, told a Congressional committee that the GSA has consolidated conference oversight in a new Office of Administrative Services and canceled 35 conferences that would save taxpayers $995,686.

• Associations unite. Taking fast action in response were the American Society of Association Executives, Meeting Professionals International, Professional Convention Management Association, International Association of Exhibitions and Events, U.S. Travel Association and Convention Industry Council. They gathered 2,100 signatures on a letter that supported transparency and accountability in government spending, but urged Congress to modify language in the final consolidated bill “to allow federal employees to attend educational conferences held by associations and other non-governmental organizations, without compromising Congress’s goal of enhanced federal accountability.” PCMA followed up by urging its members to use ASAE’s web template to send personalized messages to their members of Congress.

• Another proposal. Separately, U.S. Travel Association proposed that the Congress and Administration:

— Extend and enhance oversight provisions enacted in FY2012 by requiring federal agencies to report all conference-related expenditures and conference contracting procedures to its Inspector General at the end of each fiscal year.

— Ensure that agencies select conference locations based solely on cost-effectiveness by permanently eliminating the “blacklisting” of American cities for government conferences and meetings.

• Crackdown on government waste. The Office of Management and Budget issued guidance to Federal agencies on how to increase efficiency and strengthen accountability in the areas of travel and conferences, including:

— “In FY 2013, each agency shall spend at least 30 percent less on travel expenses…than in FY 2010…and must maintain this level of spending each year through FY 2016.”

— “Agencies shall direct all immediate savings achieved through this reduction towards investments that improve the transparency of and accountability for Federal spending.”

— “Agencies shall include in their FY 2014 budget submission…a description of how they will make these travel reductions sustainable, including the specific process changes and technology investments necessary to reduce their reliance on travel.”

— “A series of new policies and practices for conference sponsorship, hosting, and attendance [will] ensure that Federal funds are used appropriately on these activities” through advance senior-level review, approval of all future conference expenses in excess of $100,000; prohibit expenses in excess of $500,000 on a single conference; report publicly on all conference expenses in excess of $100,000.”

* Hotels in limbo. For Dolce Hotels and Resorts, which was awarded a GSA schedule, government meetings represented a steady growth market. “The new guidelines for accountability and efficiency are slowing down all levels of the work that we were previously engaged in with the government and has had a real impact on the number of meetings we are signing with the government in a less than desirable way,” said Carol Bullock, vice president of sales. “The new OMB guidance on government travel and conferences will most likely limit the number of meetings that end up being held at hotels. Government meeting planners seem to be taking a strong wait and see approach, as there is too much risk on many levels.” — Maxine Golding


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