OMB Allows “Mission Critical” Exemptions for Federal Conference Spending

In an update to its 2012 guidance restricting federal conference spending, the Office of Management and Budget said that agencies can ask for more money to send employees to face-to-face meetings in "mission-critical" situations.

The strict rules limiting federal conference spending just got a tiny bit less strict.

Last month, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) updated its 2012 guidance for federal travel and conference spending, which set tight limits on those expenditures in the wake of a scandal involving a lavish General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas in 2010.

While most of the rules remain in place—including a required 30 percent reduction in travel spending—OMB’s chief financial officer said that there is room for exceptions in the case of “mission-critical” needs.

“Agencies are responsible for finding the right balance between reducing spending and meeting mission-critical needs,” the document states [PDF]. “If agencies have new mission critical travel needs not captured in the original FY 2012 travel reduction targets, OMB will entertain proposals for baseline adjustment.”

The update also eased the approval process in multiple ways: Federal employees can now submit for multiple preapprovals at once for recurring conferences or annual events that aren’t hosted by the federal government, a change meant to “prevent lengthy and cumbersome review processes that could hinder an agency’s ability to carry out their mission in an efficient and effective manner.” Pre-approvals can also be delegated to deputy secretaries.

“By delegating the approval authority, agencies have found that the approver is more familiar with the subject of the conference,” the document states.

The rule clarifications, OMB spokesman Jamal Brown told The Washington Post, were meant “to reduce burdens and streamline the process” around attending conferences.

ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, welcomed the news.

“After nearly four years of reduced budgets for travel and conferences, it’s encouraging to see the administration make some additional allowances for government employees to attend mission-critical conferences,” Graham said.

He noted that the update is just a step forward, not a full victory.

“We continue to make the case to Capitol Hill that federal workers need to be able to attend face-to-face conferences for training and certification and to share best practices and ideas with their counterparts outside the federal government,” he added.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

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

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