Federal Travel Restrictions for Conferences and Events Eased by President Obama

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Washington, D.C – Just a week before he leaves office, President Obama has given federal employees a break by reducing the restrictions governing attendance at conferences and events that were imposed in 2012 when federal budgets were slashed.

That’s good news for trade show, convention and conference organizers who bemoaned lost attendance, revenue and educational opportunities under the stringent conditions imposed nearly five years ago.

The updated guidelines make three major changes to the conference approval process, according to Chris Vest, Director of Public Policy for ASAE. Those changes are:

  • A focus on approval and oversight for agency-sponsored or hosted conferences, not outside conferences, allowing internal flexibility for approval.
  • An allowance for pre-approval of known recurring conferences—including those NOT sponsored by the government, which will enable the agencies to take advantage of early registration discounts and advance travel arrangements.
  • Not extending funding caps previously imposed. Those caps expired at the end of the 2016 fiscal year in September.

Government agencies will be given new accountability standards in place of the previous restrictions. Those include a requirement to publish information about conference attendance on agency websites whenever the overall cost is more than $100,000. Other details about such conferences also will be required on the websites.

In an article by Vest to ASAE members, he said the updated memo “reinforces the positive role of face-to-face attendance at conferences and modifies the conference approval process for federal agencies, with the goal of reducing bureaucracy and maintaining fiscal responsibility.”

The rules initially were put into play after an outcry over a General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas in 2012 that cost more than $800,000 for 300 employees to attend at a time when sequestration and federal budget cuts were more the norm. The savings were estimated to be 25% below previous expenditures. But critics said they interfered with the ability of many federal employees to do their jobs, according to the article by Vest. Those claims were acknowledged in the memo easing restrictions.

“These are words of encouragement to travel for professional growth and education,” said John Graham, President and CEO at ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership.

Reach Chris Vest at (202) 626-2798 or cvest@asaecenter.org; John Graham at (202) 626-2741 or jgraham@asaecenter.org

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