Last week’s annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army surpassed last year’s attendance despite lingering budget cuts and a partial government shutdown.
In the face of the ongoing effects of sequestration, and coming hard on the heels of a partial government shutdown, it is a wonder that the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Association of the United States Army took place at all last week, let alone that its attendance numbers were substantial.
“I’m surprised any of us is here,” Army Secretary John McHugh said in his opening remarks at the conference, as reported by Breaking Defense. While AUSA predicted strong attendance a week before the meeting, which took place October 21-23 in Washington, DC, the actual numbers showed an improvement over the 2012 conference.
We didn’t have a government shutdown last year, and we’re beating those numbers.
“We’re ahead of the game,” AUSA spokesman David Liddle told Breaking Defense during the conference. “We didn’t have a government shutdown last year, and we’re beating those numbers.”
Last year, amid scrutiny of other federal agencies’ lavish conference spending, the Army cut 88 percent of its budget for the AUSA meeting, resulting in a scaled-down event. In the four years before 2012, the Army spent $37.7 million to send 9,805 service members to the conference, compared to the $1.3 million it spend last year to send 400 attendees.
For its part, AUSA tried to make it easier for people to participate in this year’s meeting by live-streaming almost all of the panels to virtual attendees. It offered remote participants the opportunity to interact with and ask questions of speakers via social media and recorded all sessions for participants to view at a later date.
The association also tried to mitigate the effects of budget cuts and the shutdown—which canceled most temporary-duty travel and ended only days before the conference started—by picking up the $630,000 tab for about 280 Army personnel to travel to the event, according to DefenseNews.
“AUSA was happy to proffer monies at our expense, not taxpayer expense, so that key individuals in the Army could avail themselves of the opportunity to go to the annual meeting,” Liddle told DefenseNews. “This is a one-stop shop for the Army, once a year, to have a conversation about what’s going on with the Army, what’s going on with the soldier, what’s going on with the families, and what’s going on with industry partners. This is the best use of monies that could be allocated.”