U.S. Travel Association Counters Storm Over GSA Conference Costs

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Washington, DC – The business travel industry urged Congress to avoid taking any rash steps in response to the uproar over a high-priced training conference in Las Vegas organized by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).

The U.S. Travel Association (USTA) issued a statement reminding Congress that the travel industry was a vital job generator for the nation’s economy and that the 2010 conference ran counter to existing regulations governing event spending.

“The American people demand two things of their government:  to be responsible stewards of their tax dollars and provide a valuable service that benefits this country,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the USTA.

The USTA scheduled a conference call April 4 to discuss the benefits of business travel with the national media.

Trade show managers are invited to listen to the call despite the short notice. It may be accessed at (866) 200-6965. The PIN Code is 55902979#

The fallout from the GSA inspector general’s report on the 2010 event included the resignation of the agency’s top administrator and the firing of two deputies. The idea of wasteful spending also raised the high likelihood that the cost of taking part in conferences would be subject to congressional hearings in the near future.

A headline in The New York Times summed up the situation; “Agency Trip to Las Vegas Is the Talk of Washington.”

The “talk” revolves around the perception of the GSA 2010 Western Regions Training Conference being turned into a free-spending junket. The Inspector General’s office took a dim view in its report on the $823,000 tab of the meeting at a Henderson resort, which involved 300 GSA attendees and included itemized costs such as $75,000 for team-building exercises, and $130,000 for six site-inspection trips.

The Times said it was likely the Obama administration would conduct a stem-to-stern review of government policies on travel and meetings against the backdrop of an already tense election-year. “I have a feeling that they’re going to be looking under every rock and cleaning every cupboard at this point,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Wash., told the newspaper.

Reach Roger Dow at (202) 408-8422 or rdow@ustravel.org