As House and Senate committees begin hearings on the General Services Administration’s apparent excessive spending for its 2010 Western Regions Conference at the M Resort Spa Casino, industry organizations are urging a measured response to the scandal.
In reaction to the controversy, GSA has reportedly canceled a one-day sustainability conference that was scheduled for April 25 at the Hampton Inn Tropicana, a two-day conference planned at M Resort in September, and some small conferences in other cities. Dan Tangherlini, acting head of the GSA (who replaced Martha Johnson, who resigned after the release of the inspector general’s report on the Las Vegas conference), has also suspended the employee recognition program in the GSA’s Pacific Rim region.
Charles Sadler, CGMP, CHSP, CHSC, executive director and CEO of the Society of Government Meeting Professionals, sees the GSA case as “disturbing,” but newsworthy in part “because it’s unusual. Decades of experience demonstrate that the vast majority of government conferences are productive and cost effective,” he said in a statement. “Government travel plays a significant role in the U.S. economy as a whole and no one will want to endure the economic hardship individuals and businesses would experience if leaders take the knee-jerk approach and drastically reduce or shut down government meetings and travel.”
The U.S. Travel Association, which has led the fight to get lawmakers and the general public to understand the economic significance of the meetings industry, is trying to avoid having the wastefulness of the GSA meeting impact the industry as a whole. It is asking industry suppliers to contact them with information, especially if a federal agency has canceled a meeting at their hotel, convention center, or destination, or if they have a positive story about a federal conference or meeting that stayed within the guidelines or that provided value to the taxpayer.
Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel, has urged lawmakers to remember that the GSA meeting does not negate the critical value of meetings and travel. “At a time when Washington is laser-focused on creating jobs and curbing wasteful spending,” Dow said in a statement, “we hope policymakers will remember that responsible travel can help accomplish these goals. We know through repeated studies that travel for face-to-face meetings increases worker productivity in the private and public sectors. We also know that meetings, conferences, and events are critical to our economy and support 845,000 U.S. jobs.”
SGMP’s Sadler went on to suggest there might be a silver lining to the scandal. “GSA's black eye for this 2010 WRC meeting will be SGMP members' and leaders' golden opportunity to advocate for the training and certification of government planners. This acknowledgement of the importance of providing education and resources for meeting planning is the first step toward ensuring that government policy and best practices for efficient, cost-effective meetings are the standard—starting with the career government employee and continuing all the way up to the appointee who may head a federal agency.”