Between sequestration and scrutiny over government spending on meetings, the National Defense Industrial Association is facing tough choices as it looks at its meetings portfolio and internal resources.
We’re already getting feedback from [members] saying, ‘We’re losing track of what’s going on, what [the government’s] plans are.’
Associations in the defense industry are starting to feel the crunch as the Department of Defense faces budget cuts and pressure to curb spending on meetings and travel. A case in point: the National Defense Industrial Association, which currently lists six cancelled conferences on its events webpage. Two had been scheduled for this week, including its Annual National Logistics Conference and Exhibition in Miami.
NDIA explains the cancellations with announcements like this one:
“As you may be aware … the Department of Defense issued a memorandum detailing actions to be taken to prepare for drastic budget cuts resulting from sequestration and/or related fiscal challenges. Since then, further government guidance curtailing all but mission critical travel for government employees, staff, and leaders has rendered the conduct of the [insert conference name and location here] no longer possible.”
“Our events are founded on the premise of getting government leaders to speak to the industry,” said retired Major General Barry Bates, vice president of operations for NDIA. “If you look at a typical agenda, at least half of the speakers would be senior government leaders. With those leaders now unable to travel, the purpose of our events can no longer be fulfilled.”
NDIA considered alternative means to hold the events, such as videoconferencing, but decided that a one- or two-hour webinar could not replace a day-and-a-half interaction with government leadership, Bates said: “Those in the industry come to our events so they can hear government leaders speak. If they’re not there speaking, the industry’s not going to pay to come to hear other industry folks talk.”
Members are voicing their concerns about the cancellations.
“We’re already getting feedback from them saying, ‘We’re losing track of what’s going on, what [the government’s] plans are, what they’re thinking about, so that we can tune our business plans to support it,’” said Bates. “Government needs the industry to be informed in order create efficiencies and reduce costs.”
NDIA will review future events to try to find ways to cut costs so that government personnel can attend, with a focus on where events are held.
“Part of our mitigation will be to review where we are having events and try to place them in a locale that best fits where the government folks are located who have knowledge of that functional area,” Bates said. “Over time, we will consolidate and relocate events, and retain the majority of our portfolio.”
Internally, the cancellations have had an impact on NDIA staffing.
“We have not released any people specifically because of this activity,” said Bates, although some vacant positions are not being filled. “We’re not downsized per se, but we’re being very cautious about recognizing that our workload is going down without these events, so we don’t need the same level of staffing.”
The most damaging impact of curtailing face-to-face meetings will be on the ability of the industry to innovate, Bates said.
Conferences provide “professional stimulus for both the industry and the government engineers and scientists, and those in the government are no longer getting the opportunity” to interact with their colleagues in the private sector, he said. “A prolonged prohibition on travel will … stifle innovation by precluding the sharing of technical information between government and the industry.”