Shutdown Shuts Down Armed Forces Electronics Conference
A popular fall symposium that the hosting association rated “low-risk” on September 30 had to be axed 24 hours later because of the budget impasse.
When Kent Schneider, president and CEO of the Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association (AFCEA), met with his executive committee and board in the weeks leading up to the group’s annual Fall Intelligence Symposium, they had no concerns about the success of the popular, classified event, which sells out each year—even with the looming threat of a government shutdown. The date of the event: October 2.
“We all thought that Congress, as it has in the past, would come together at the last minute and pass either a budget or continuing resolution,” Schneider said.
When Congress failed to do that by midnight October 1, all bets were off, and AFCEA was forced to cancel the event.
“It was scheduled in a government facility—the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Springfield, Virginia—and so this was not even a judgment call,” said Schneider. “We couldn’t hold it in a facility that wasn’t going to be open.”
For Schneider and AFCEA—along with many other organizations serving a federal employee or contractor audience—an environment in which the status of a meeting can change in an instant is essentially the new normal.
“We don’t like canceling events or even postponing events, but with so many more constraints on events and on travel, you’ve got to be pretty agile. You’ve got to be willing to make adjustments, to do date changes, even location changes,” he said. “The [Office of Management and Budget] guidance mechanisms that were put in place to help agencies determine if a meeting is mission-critical aren’t terribly specific, and even just in the Department of Defense there are over 300 approval authorities that put their own interpretation on that guidance. So we’ve found that flexibility and agility with these events is key.”
After canceling the symposium, AFCEA immediately went back into planning mode, with the goal of hosting an alternative event by spring.
“If this were a larger event with full exhibits and a lot of people traveling, we would’ve probably had to make a decision earlier, but we were fortunate with this one that that wasn’t the case,” Schneider said. “We were able to get the [cancellation] information out to everybody fairly quickly, and we’re now in the process of notifying people about refunds and all of those kinds of things. But we’ve moved forward and are looking for alternatives. Because of the planning time and the availability of venues, and we’ll change the format a little bit even though the content will remain similar.”
The Fall Intelligence Symposium is the only major event on AFCEA’s schedule that will be affected by the shutdown, which gives the organization more time to assist its members and local chapters in weathering this storm.
“At this point, just the uncertainty is the biggest issue,” said Schneider. “What we’re trying to do is get information out as quickly as we get it, and give people some thoughts about what the alternatives are with furloughing versus leave and some of the legal constraints” of the shutdown. That’s a need that nonprofits in a wide variety of charitable and industry spaces are rushing to meet.
“That actually concerns me more than protecting the AFCEA event schedule,” he added. “We’ll manage that, it’s not a huge deal. It’s when our local chapters have to start canceling events and making employment decisions, those things cause some real problems.”