Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

5 Conference Planning Tips to Cut Costs

Image via Maxim Blinkov/

Budget cuts and tightened regulations in the wake of high-profile cases of excessive conference spending have combined to put the squeeze on federal off-site gatherings this year.

However, the U.S. Chief Financial Officers Council shared guidance recently indicating that government travel is, by no means, forbidden. “As each agency reviews its travel and conference-related activities, it is critical for each agency to continue to recognize the important role that mission-related travel and conferences can often play in Government operations,” according to the May 28 Controller Alert from the council.  

For government officials scrambling to re-evaluate travel plans for their important meetings and conferences, several tips can help them discover ways to economize in the planning process, without losing quality and effectiveness.

1. Clearly define the purpose of the meeting at the outset.

The more compelling the case for the gathering, the more likely it will receive approval.

For instance, the Controller Alert indicates that collaborations among government scientists with industry and academic colleagues to drive innovation could be one approved purpose. Meetings for specific program reviews and oversight boards, law enforcement trainings and international engagements are among other reasons for meeting in person.

If the conference is a training event, the learning objectives and mission or job performance outcomes should be included in the written justification.

2. Focus primarily on far-reaching and/or timely issues that will have major impact.

While government employees might consider many subjects worthy of discussing face-to-face, it is important to find the subject matter that is likely to have the largest impact after a face-to-face meeting.

For example, a law or ruling that millions of Americans need to comply with when it goes into effect on July 1, 2014 would be a compelling reason for government officials from around the country to convene in early 2014 to discuss how that should be communicated, and to prepare for implementation.

3. Secure commitments from key personnel before selecting the date for the meeting.

With financial constraints, it is no longer possible to justify having a meeting without the people who bring the most expertise to the table, whose knowledge and insights will advance discussions and teach others.

An effective meeting requires firm commitments from the pivotal people in their field, for the topic being covered—whether it is a rocket scientist for a NASA session, specific medical researchers for the National Cancer Institute or the CFO for a budget session.

4. Create an actionable agenda via a collaborative document, indicating which participants will pay for each component of the meeting.

This step will ensure that each government agency involved can provide funding according to the appropriate policies. In this way, the agenda becomes a tool for sharing expenses and reducing the burden of the meeting’s cost on any one agency.

One agency could be responsible for underwriting the cost of audiovisual services, for example, while another covers the expenses of meals or refreshments during breaks.

5. Review your list of invitees to ensure that only participants who will play an active role are included.

Successful meetings thrive on involved participants. In the past, it was possible to include invitees who traveled to a meeting but never said a word.

As government gatherings are being pared down, and all costs evaluated, it is crucial to include only invitees who are likely to engage with one another in discussion and collaboration. Silent participants expecting an “observer only” status can be excluded from the list, especially in smaller meetings.

With the 30 percent budget cuts for travel, and requirements that meetings budgeted at $100,000 or more be published, government executives will find ways to refine meeting planning into a fine art. The result might be fewer meetings, and smaller, less costly meetings, but at the end of the day, it might mean more fantastic meetings. That is an outcome everyone would welcome.

Goran Gligorovic is executive vice president of Omega World Travel, a global travel management company. Based in Fairfax, Virginia, Omega services government, corporate, meeting, and leisure clients throughout the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia.  

Image via Maxim Blinkov/

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.