By David McMillin, Staff Writer | Mar 04, 2013
The General Services Administration is back in the meeting industry spotlight. What happened this time?
There won’t be any scandal at this year’s General Services Administration Expo. In fact, there won’t be an Expo at all.
The GSA Training and Expo 2013, which was scheduled to be held May 14 - 16 in Orlando, has been cancelled.
“In the current fiscal climate, agencies and businesses alike have been forced to make tough spending cuts,” a statement from the GSA Expo Team reads. “After carefully reviewing the projected spending and attendance for this year’s conference, GSA is suspending Expo for 2013 in an effort to use our resources responsibly and to deliver better value and savings for our government partners, our vendors and the American people.”
Conference Spending Under Scrutiny
As the news of sequestration budget cuts ripples across the country, the Expo cancellation appears to be a signal of a tightening belt on budgets for conferences and travel.
GSA has already been taking steps to reduce the costs of face-to-face meetings over the past year. In a February 27 Congressional hearing, Cynthia Metzler, Chief Administrative Officer, U.S. General Services Administration, outlined how new regulations eliminated more than $28 million in travel and transportation costs through the end of 2012.
By no means is GSA is eliminating meetings altogether, but the organization is shifting dollars away from more expensive environments. Rather than relying on meeting space held by privately-owned companies, GSA created an online “Federal Meeting Facilities” tool that offers a directory of government-owned conference spaces available for use.
Looking ahead, Metzler said that conference spending should decrease even further.
“GSA is utilizing data to allow agencies to make better decisions about where to host conferences, when they are determined to be needed,” Metzler said. “GSA is training administrative officers in over 20 federal agencies on how to identify low cost destinations and venues for conferences and meetings.”
However, much of that training may not occur in the traditional style of a big annual conference. GSA is encouraging more localized training sessions, along with pointing to digital learning opportunities. The GSA Expo Team highlights “a wide array of online and virtual training”, including webinars and online forums for those who would have attended this year’s Expo in Orlando.
The Reality of Remote Learning
While many members of the meeting industry are leveraging the power of hybrid meetings and virtual engagement tools, the GSA Expo cancellation points to a troubling notion that some outside the industry may hold: virtual learning can be an adequate substitute for face-to-face education.
Technology has given public and private organizations the ability to connect without traveling to a physical location, but face-to-face remains the undisputed champion of collaboration. Recent scientific research shows that face-to-face work fuels more ideas and more originality.
As government agencies deal with shrinking budgets, meeting planners and suppliers will need to strengthen efforts to promote the value of face-to-face at the local, state and national level. Find out how you can communicate that value to your representative and show your support for the meetings industry.
Photo courtesy of United States General Services Administration