Amid Budget Cuts, More Federal Meetings Go Virtual

Could virtual meetings become the way forward for federal agencies as sequestration takes hold? Some agencies are showing success with the format, but it may not be for everyone.

With an ongoing crackdown on federal meetings, it appears that the way forward, at least for some conferences, is going virtual.

And as a result, federal agencies are being forced to conduct more of their meetings and conferences online, according to Federal Times.

For example, Department of Defense doubled its Defense Connect Online system to provide more audio and web options for meetings. The program seems to be working, evidenced by the system’s 800,000 registered users.

However, even with these successes, virtual training may not always prove the right answer.

One agency that’s had some success with the virtual format is the U.S. Navy. The Naval Safety and Environmental Training Center recently hosted a 1,500-person training conference for the military services online that “reduced costs by 50 percent or nearly $100,000.” The conference reportedly was well received by virtual attendees, with 90 percent approving of the format.

However, even with these successes, virtual training may not always prove the right answer: For example, in cases where hands-on equipment training is necessary, it doesn’t translate well, and engagement can prove problematic for some speakers.

cost-cutting efforts

Efforts to streamline federal agencies’ operating costs related to meetings and conferences have been mixed, particularly involving the armed forces. Among developments last month:

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted to cap agency spending on conferences at $500,000 per event and require agencies to obtain a waiver explaining any cost overruns, according to Federal Times.

A last-minute amendment was excluded from a continuing resolution that would have prohibited more than 25 employees from a federal agency from attending any meeting or conference in the United States.

The National Defense Industrial Association cancelled six conferences in an effort to curb spending on meetings and travel.

For months, the U.S. Army has struggled to cut its budget while at the same time provide necessary training and information to its officers and soldiers. In November 2012, Defense Systems editor-in-chief Barry Rosenberg took issue with the fact that military members weren’t able to attend an Association of the U.S. Army conference because of conference-related budget cuts. However, this came on the heels of a report that found the Army spent $10.7 million on a 2010 conference, about 13 times the cost of a GSA conference that drew congressional scrutiny. The secretary of the Army went as far as banning conference attendance for the rest of 2012 after barring musicians, motivational speakers, and promotional material at events in October.

ASAE made the case for face-to-face over virtual meetings in a February letter sent to House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform [PDF] and emphasized the value to federal employee attendance at conferences during a recent meeting with the Office of Management and Budget.


Daniel Ford

By Daniel Ford

Daniel Ford is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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