GSA pulls support for major energy conference

By Charles S. Clark

July 16, 2012

Organizers of GovEnergy, a major training conference for federal employees involved in energy, have canceled this year’s trade show and workshops after the scandal-wary General Services Administration withdrew its sponsorship.

As first reported by energy blogger Dan Nolan and confirmed by Government Executive, GSA on Friday pulled its long-standing funding because of concerns the event’s structure did not meet new agency standards. The move came in the wake of outrage earlier this year about overspending at a 2010 GSA training conference in Las Vegas. The Obama administration also has been pushing a campaign to reduce spending on conferences and travel.

“After a rigorous review of the 2012 GovEnergy conference, GSA has decided to postpone this year’s conference,” the agency said in a statement. “GSA has found that the conference does not meet the standards that GSA has put in place for conferences and contracts. There were many unanswered questions about how the conference was structured. There was not sufficient time to make the GovEnergy compliant with these new standards for an August 2012 conference. As a result, we felt that it was best to suspend the program until those issues could be addressed."

GSA said the decision was “not a statement on the importance of the conference. GSA believes that GovEnergy is an important gathering for a wide range of training sessions for federal employees and an important space for government and businesses to meet on a range of energy related issues. We look forward to working on planning next year’s conference.” Planned for Aug. 19-22 in St. Louis, the event -- billed as “the premier energy training workshop and trade show for federal agencies”-- was co-sponsored by industry interests as well as the Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments and the Environmental Protection Agency. For 15 years, it has attracted thousands of contractors and utility employees, as well as federal, state and local officials and small businesses.

According to GSA, funds will be reimbursed to registrants and vendors, and the agency will work on arrangements with the other federal agencies involved. No total cost estimates are yet available.

GSA has sponsored two major conferences in the past two months: Expo in San Antonio and Fed Fleet in Louisville, Ky. Both were widely attended by federal employees and businesses, GSA said.

This year’s keynote speaker at GovEnergy was to have been Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo. In a statement emailed to Government Executive, he said, “I appreciate the prudence shown by the GSA in taking a close look at all conferences, to make certain taxpayer money is being spent wisely. As a supporter of clean energy and the head of the High-Performance Building Caucus, I was looking forward to speaking to the conference, and I am disappointed I won't be able to do that."

Defense officials also expressed disappointment.

Blogger Nolan decried the waste. “For the hundreds of businesses who sank marketing dollars into printing, booths, [tschotskes], sponsored events of their own and other trade show staples, that is money down the drain,” he wrote. “For the city of St. Louis, it means thousands of empty hotel rooms, deserted restaurants and vacant convention halls. Presumably, the GSA will have to pay some sort of penalty and that is the expenditure of our tax dollars for less than no return.”

By Charles S. Clark

July 16, 2012