This week Congress took the first concrete steps to alter government travel as a result of the General Services Administration's (GSA) actions. The Senate and House have each approved amendments to separate bills (the DATA Act and the Postal Reform bill, respectively) that would limit government conference spending and increase reporting requirements for federal agencies holding or participating in conferences. Among other provisions, the amendments would:
- Reduce the amount a federal agency can spend on conferences to 80 percent of the amount spent in 2010;
- Cap the amount that a federal agency can spend on a single conference at $500,000;
- Require federal agencies to publish on the Internet details of their conference spending for each quarter, including costs for lodging, planning, food and beverages;
- Limit the number of government employees who can attend international conferences; and
- Limit the number of non-governmental conferences that federal agencies can sponsor or attend.
Indeed, we are already seeing these kinds of impacts on government conferences. The GSA recently canceled its participation in the Global Business Travel Association's Travel Forum conference in Phoenix - causing the entire conference to be postponed. It is ironic that the topic of this event was to share best practices with the government on efficient and cost-effective travel procurement.
We are working with all relevant Congressional offices in hopes the amendments can be revised as these bills move through the legislative process. The DATA Act, which increases transparency on all types of government spending, must still pass the Senate. The Postal Reform bill, which makes major changes to the United States Postal Service, must still pass the House.
While supporters of the legislation argue the amendments on government conferences could save millions of dollars, this broad-brush approach to government meetings and conferences casts unjustified skepticism toward the value of all government travel. At the same time, the millions of travel employees who support meetings and events would undoubtedly be affected by the possible cutbacks.
Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) has introduced a bill to ensure that Las Vegas is not blacklisted for future meetings and conferences following Congressional hearings focused on GSA spending for a meeting in that city. U.S. Travel strongly supports this legislation and will advocate for quick action on the bill in the House. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) plans to introduce a similar bill.
U.S. Travel will continue to engage Congressional leaders on the value of meetings, conferences, and government travel, and reinforce that instances of excessive spending on travel are the result of poor decision-making and a failure to follow federal travel regulations.
To coordinate a united and powerful response to this crisis, we will continue to partner with the Society of Government Travel Professionals, the Society of Government Meeting Planners, the American Society of Association Executives and a myriad of associations involved with meetings and event planning.
I will continue to keep you informed of ongoing developments.
Roger J. Dow
President & CEO