OPM is ending its longtime practice of reviewing federal agencies’ conference attendance requests. Instead, it’s giving the agencies responsibility to ensure conferences meet federal training standards before allowing employees to attend. ASAE hailed the change as a positive step for the meetings industry.
Federal agencies looking to send their employees to training conferences now have one less step gumming up the process.
Last week, the Office of Personnel Management, which has long reviewed agencies’ conference requests, announced that it would discontinue the practice, effective immediately, shifting responsibility for the review to the agencies themselves. Under federal law, attendance at a conference may be approved if it meets the following four criteria:
- The announced purpose of the conference is educational or instructional.
- More than half of the time is scheduled for a planned, organized exchange of information between presenters and audience which meets the definition of training in section 4101 of title 5, United States Code.
- The content of the conference is germane to improving individual and/or organizational performance.
- Development benefits will be derived through the employee’s attendance.
“When making this determination, agencies should review the conference’s agenda, session descriptions, and additional information, as appropriate,” OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said in a memorandum. “We encourage agencies to continue to consider professional training organizations and affinity groups as a source of training.”
In comments to Government Executive, an OPM spokesman noted that this isn’t actually a change in policy. OPM has never been required to review these events but had done so as a service to federal agencies. “[The] usefulness of the memoranda came into question during OPM’s internal review of the practice,” the spokesman said.
ASAE Senior Vice President for Public Policy Jim Clarke, CAE, welcomed the move, saying that it represented “a first step toward creating a more manageable process for federal employees” who want to attend conferences.
“One of the things we’ve heard from the agencies themselves is that the approval process for conferences right now is lengthy and an administrative challenge and can discourage agency employees from submitting requests altogether,” he said in a statement to Associations Now.
“This latest memo from OPM is encouraging for those of us who are working to facilitate government attendance at association meetings and conferences,” Clarke added. “We will have to see how it plays out in practice, but presumably, federal agencies will have more latitude to approve conference expenses that meet their criteria for training and professional development, without the extra layer of scrutiny from OPM.”
In February, the Office of Management and Budget announced that it would consider exceptions to rules limiting spending for travel to conferences, saying that agencies could request more funding for travel in “mission critical” situations.