Managers Coalition to Lawmakers: Not All Conferences Are Bad

Group argues that events are necessary for networking, educational opportunities.

A coalition of federal managers associations on Wednesday cautioned lawmakers against “extreme restrictions” on conference and travel spending.

In a Feb. 27 letter, the Government Managers Coalition told Reps. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., who held a hearing on federal conference and travel spending on Wednesday, that past abuses should not prohibit the legitimate use of events fostering collaboration with other federal employees and outside stakeholders. The GMC consists of five federal executive managers associations, and represents more than 200,000 managers in the federal government.

They argued that legislation proposed in the 112th Congress would have curtailed and restricted federal conference spending excessively, and said such measures  would be detrimental for employees seeking to develop new skills, network and collaborate.

“While this may seem appropriate on its face, blanket reductions do not generally address the problem of mismanagement,” they wrote.

The coalition argued that conferences are necessary to promote “idea-sharing and collaboration on innovative projects,” and argued that many federal employees need to gain specific certifications at conferences in order to do their jobs. Several scientific organizations made a similar case in a letter to the White House last year, saying that restrictions on travel and conferences were hindering exchange of knowledge and inhibiting technical research.

“For example employees from the Federal Aviation Administration and Social Security Administration receive mission critical training and developmental opportunities at their meetings,” the coalition noted in Wednesday’s letter.

The letter follows congressional testimony by Office of Management and Budget Controller Danny Werfel on Wednesday, where he told Farenthold and Lynch's panel  that the Obama administration had curbed travel and conference spending by nearly $2 billion between fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2012. Werfel said in a memo released on Wednesday that across-the-board budget cuts from sequestration on March 1 could mean further reductions for conference and travel budgets.

Still, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a factsheet Wednesday criticizing federal agencies for spending $267.6 million on “big ticket” conferences in fiscal 2012. Members of Congress, including Rep. Jim Jordan R-Ohio, already have started aiming new legislation at what they see as excessive conference and travel spending.  

The managers coalition encouraged congressional leaders to enhance mechanisms to oversee conference spending and prevent waste. They said that watchdogs should evaluate conference and travel spending on a case-by-case basis, and discouraged the use of an across-the-board budget cut to limit it.

“It is our experience that there is never a one–size-fits-all policy and exceptions always exist,” the coalition wrote. “Agencies should have flexibility to determine what travel, meetings and conferences are a necessary expense.”

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