And We Thought Sequestration Was Bad...

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The effects of sequestration already being felt by many meetings and events is bound to get a whole lot more painful now that our esteemed members of Congress' inability to act like adults and get their jobs done caused big chunks of government to shut down yesterday. (ASAE says that its members already were seeing a 40 percent to 50 percent reduction in government employee attendance from sequestration and cutbacks even before this pile of ridiculousness came about.)

So, the government shutdown's effects are still rippling out. It's not just that sightseeing tour of a national park that will need to be replaced, or the government official who was scheduled to speak on a panel who now is barred from public speaking, or even the federal employees who can't come to your conference because they're furloughed or working under a travel ban (according to a memo from Under Secretary, Management, U.S. Department of State Patrick Kennedy, "No new travel should be arranged; no one should make new arrangements to attend conferences" during the lapse in appropriations. They can't even use their department-issued smartphones or tablets to join in virtually as they now must power those down, according to the memo). And let's not forget the federal government meeting planners who are now out of work, and their meetings put on hold. Close to home for me, a friend who has been working on a project with NASA has had all meetings for the foreseeable future put on hold.

Those immediate, tangible things are bad enough, but I'm finding some of the less-direct effects equally worrisome. While early indications are that corporate business travel isn't taking much an in immediate hit, the government's inability to issue visas and passports is bound to hit ex-U.S. meetings—back in 1996, the shutdown left hundreds of thousands of people unable to get a passport, and tens of thousands of visa apps unprocessed, according to the Global Business Travel Association. GBTA Executive Director and COO Michael McCormick also is predicting that an extended shutdown will cause overseas businesses to want to not do so much business with the U.S., including holding meetings in U.S. cities. And getting those international attendees to your U.S.-based show isn't going to be a cakewalk either as those long customs lines will likely grow longer as Customs and Border Protection furloughs about 14 percent of its staff. If anyone still wants to fly, that is. Keep in mind that 3,000 air safety inspectors are among the 15,000 Federal Aviation Administration employees now on leave.

Then there's the really scary stuff. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's furlough of 48 percent of its employees means it won't be able to surveil for outbreaks of infectious diseases, from the run-of-the-mill annual flu to something new and potentially pandemic (remember SARS and how that affected meetings? And H1N1?)

And even the food you serve may be more suspect, as the Food and Drug Administration furloughs 45 percent of its staff—you know, the people who track foodborne illness outbreaks and inspect food imports.

So let's hope that this shutdown is a short one, though I'm not holding my breath in anticipation of a quick-and-easy resolution. And if you don't already, you may want to start including "federal government shutdown" in your contracts' force majeure clause.

Update: Or not. According to industry attorney Steve Rudner, who addressed the force majeure issue on the MeCo listserv, a government-contracted meeting would not be covered by force majeure because, as he says, "No one gets to create their own force majeure and then use that as a defense." And because the funding issue is self-inflicted, not an act of God, and because who knows if the shutdown would still be in place at the time of the meeting. Oh well, it sounded like a good idea anyway.

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