Face-to-face conferences have been a hot topic on Capitol Hill, and new legislation indicates that lawmakers have assigned a lower value to the act of bringing people together at meetings and conventions.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 313, the Government Spending Accountability Act of 2013, on Wednesday, July 31. The passage of the bill means that federal agencies must reduce their travel expenses to 70 percent of their 2010 levels for a five-year period beginning in 2014. In addition to the across-the-board reductions, agencies must abide by a number of rules when organizing or participating in conferences including:
- $500,000 spending cap on any single conference.
- No more than 50 U.S.-based employees can attend one international conference. (This number can be adjust with “an exception that specifies greater attendance is in national interest.)
- Federal agencies must post detailed presentation summaries and any visual, digital, video or audio materials involved in the presentation on their public websites.
“The point of this bill is not to eliminate federal conferences,” Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) said in a statement. “If federal employees are on these conferences to work, then their expenses will reflect that.”
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While Farenthold indicates that he recognizes the need for federal participation in meetings and conventions, he and other lawmakers continue to cite the well-publicized examples of overspending at a 2010 GSA conference and a 2010 IRS conference.
“What we don’t want to happen is the government paying for federal employee’s vacations,” Farenthold warned. “Expenses like mind readers, clowns, line dancing lessons and a Star Trek video are not a good use of taxpayers’ hard-earned money.”
Important Exclusion in the Bill
While the bill clearly holds negative implications for meeting organizers, the news could have been worse. Thanks to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wi.), H.R. 313 does not include an initial proposal to limit agencies from attending more than one conference per outside group each year.
Still, the travel industry quickly responded to the passage of the bill.
“The GSA Act is an unnecessary and counterproductive measure that inadvertently reduces federal efficiency and productivity and restricts important government functions,” Roger Dow, president and CEO, U.S. Travel Association, said in a statement. “Federal agencies are already adhering to stringent guidelines put in place last year by Congress and the Administration to prevent unethical spending on government conferences.”
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If you’re worried about how federal spending cuts and laws will impact your organization, it’s time to get involved. Click here to join your colleagues and PCMA to raise awareness about the value of face-to-face collaboration.