The fate of government employee attendance at association meetings is again up in the air as a newly introduced bill aims to cut agency travel budgets by substituting videoconferencing.
Last week, legislation was introduced in the House that would have major implications for government travel to association meetings.
The “Stay in Place, Cut the Waste” Act (H.R. 2810) calls for agencies to cut travel budgets to as much as 50 percent of 2015 levels by using videoconferencing as a substitute for face-to-face meetings. Introduced by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), the bill has 11 cosponsors, including seven Democrats. The legislation was also introduced in the 113th Congress by Congressman Fitzpatrick but was not marked up in committee.
This news comes after Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) introduced the GSA Act of 2015 in April to cap government spending on travel and conferences and require detailed reporting of conference expenses for each federal agency. While it largely duplicates existing rules, Farenthold’s bill includes provisions that require agencies to provide a cost-benefit analysis of holding a conference versus a teleconference and a justification for holding a conference in a specific location.
The Value of Face-To-Face
Three years after the Obama administration adopted new rules for travel and conferences, associations are still working to explain the value of face-to-face meetings to policymakers concerned with rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in government spending. There has been some progress to report, such as new guidance from the Office of Management and Budget earlier this year that gives federal agencies more flexibility to send government employees to meetings and conferences.
The OMB memo also allows employees to seek preapproval of reoccurring conferences to prevent lengthy review processes that can discourage or prevent them from applying for travel funds.
In a global survey of 2,300 Harvard Business Review subscribers, 95 percent said that face-to-face meetings are both key to successful long-term relationships and to building stronger relationships. ASAE has emphasized the importance of face-to-face meetings in meetings and in comments to the House Oversight Committee and various congressional offices.
“We believe that it is time to take a step back and analyze the effects existing restrictions have had on federal travel, and whether there is a need for additional restrictions,” ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, wrote in a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). “From our perspective, our members have experienced increased difficulty in the ability of associations to interact with federal officials in a way that is necessary to help keep the role of government in its proper place. We do not believe that it is in the interest of anyone to isolate federal officials from those they are regulating, and our experience is that this is indeed what is happening.”