In a May 11 memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies, Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, outlined new government restrictions on federal meetings and travel. The limits are part of the continuing fallout from the General Services Administration’s overspending and mismanagement of its Western Regions Conference in Las Vegas in 2010.
In the memo, Zients says the government will expand on existing policies to
- initiate senior-level review of spending for currently planned and future conferences where spending will exceed $100,000,
- prohibit expenses over $500,000 for a single conference (waivers may be applied for in writing), and
- begin public reporting on conference spending by federal agencies. A report on conferences that cost the government more than $100,000 must appear on an agency’s official Web site and include the location of the conference, total expenses, number of people whose conference expenses were paid by the agency, and other details. If a conference exceeds $500,000, the extenuating details leading to the waiver must be posted as well.
The Zients memo also calls on every government agency to spend “at least 30 percent less on travel expenses … than in FY 2010. Agencies must maintain this reduced level of spending each year through FY 2016.”
Separately, the U.S. Travel Association drafted a proposal last week to strengthen oversight of government conferences. The group is recommending that that Congress require federal agencies to report all conference-related expenditures and contracting procedures to its Inspector General at the end of each fiscal year. It also recommends that federal agencies select conference locations solely on cost-effectiveness by permanently eliminating “blacklisting” of American cities for government meetings. Congress is currently considering legislation that would place restrictions on government conferences, and U.S. Travel is meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to advocate for its proposal and dissuade members of Congress from supporting other measures that could have unintended consequences for the meetings industry.