action that would trigger even more onerous restrictions and budget caps.”
The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), a trade organization for commercial construction contractors, is similarly concerned. With 30,000 member firms, AGC focuses on job-site safety, expanding use of new technologies, and strengthening dialogue between contractors and owners. Lately, the group is having a much harder time getting federal representation at its Annual AGC Convention and various other meetings, even though government entities contract billions in commercial construction annually. “These cuts and restrictions have had a chilling effect,” said Jimmy Christianson, AGC's public-affairs director. “We used to have dozens of federal employees attending our convention, working with our members on safety issues and technical advancements and just having informal dialogue where any potential issues could be worked out. But now there's so much red tape and uncertainty that we had just one Army Corps of Engineers representative at our convention in March.”
It didn't help that the meeting was held in Las Vegas, where the optics are still bad for federal attendance after the Inspector General report on GSA's 2010 Western Regions Conference, held at a resort casino in nearby Henderson, Nev. But Christianson said that getting government employees to come to meetings in general has become challenging, thanks to a “hierarchical” approval process. “We know we need to move meetings to where the particular agency is rather than ask them to travel,” he said. “The one place where we still have good participation is Washington, D.C.”
This past January, more than 24 meetings- and travel-industry groups gathered at PCMA's Convening Leaders 2014 annual meeting in Boston to re-launch Meetings Mean Business, a public-relations and advocacy effort focusing on the economic value of meetings and their critical role as a business tool. The campaign was first created in 2009, spearheaded by U.S. Travel.
“We need to constantly push the value of face-to-face meetings,” said Jim Clarke, CAE, senior vice president of public policy for ASAE, which is a member of the Meetings Mean Business coalition. Although neither Clarke nor U.S. Travel's Hansen sees a reversal of the new normal in government travel spending any time soon, they both point to some positive signs that the “scandal mentality” that has pervaded the last two years is beginning to change. For example, Hansen said, in March the Government Accounting Office released a study of the effects of sequestration-related travel cuts in 23 federal agencies. “The report found that in many cases you can't have these deep cuts without affecting an agency's mission,” he said. “We will continue to work to see more change like this.”
Regina McGee is a writer and editor based in central Massachusetts.