To Attract Feds to Events, Conferences Are Becoming Luncheons

It's tougher to sell traditional conferences to federal attendees these days. That's led to more concise, tightly focused meeting formats for government employees.

The solution to the conference spending scandal that’s riled up the federal government over the past couple of years could come in the form of a good breakfast or lunch.

That appears to be the approach some meetings planners are taking. According to Federal Times, meeting organizers such as MeriTalk are increasingly embracing a mini-meeting format, where an informational session might take place during a lunch or continental breakfast. The format also has some structural benefits, according to the company’s Steve O’Keeffe: It keeps the level of information being shared manageable.

The reality is that long-form conferences just won’t bring in the federal audience anymore, O’Keefe said. “If you have sessions lasting into the late afternoon, it doesn’t matter if you have Albert Einstein speaking—there are just going to be tumbleweeds blowing through where the audience should be,” he told Federal Times.

This approach works for agencies like the General Services Administration, which hosted the lavish 2010 event in Las Vegas that sparked the conference scandal. GSA has cancelled some of its training events in the aftermath.

Some associations have changed their approach to make room for this shorter style of meeting. AFCEA International, for example, has launched shorter formats to adapt to federal conference spending cuts. But it says the short formats can’t replace everything a long-term meeting does.

“AFCEA envisions an increase in breakfast, luncheon and one-day events as a trend, but at the same time there remains a need for presentations by leaders and a platform for change or needs by government and industry,” AFCEA’s vice president for operations, Mike Warlick, told the publication.

The Pressure’s Still On

While the GSA’s 2010 Western Regions conference is a fading memory at this point, the repercussions of the event still reverberate—and late last month, they led to criminal charges.

Former GSA regional commissioner Jeffrey Neely, the man at the center of the $800,000 conference, was indicted last week on five counts of fraud. Two of the counts are directly related to the conference; the others involve personal trips, including one between Guam and Saipan, for which he allegedly charged the government.

Scrutiny of GSA’s spending remains high. This week, an inspector general report suggested that the agency needs to boost controls on use of its purchase cards, even though spending on the cards declined by more than half between fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2013.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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