by Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM | June 5, 2013

Elizabeth ZielinskiOn June 4, the U.S. Department of Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released a scathing report about excessive spending by the Internal Revenue Service related to their conferences. While a 2010 conference in Anaheim, Calif., is the target of the report, other IRS conferences get critical reviews in the document as well. You can read the complete report here.

As a member of this profession, I am really tired of the criticism. So much of what is being reported is taken out of context, and without the supporting information about why the meeting professionals in question made the choices that they did. But rather than lash out at the people who are initiating the criticism, I'm mostly just embarrassed that we're in this place again as a collective industry. The world has demanded accountability in our work, and whether that is justified or not, it's where we are.

At the core of the report are allegations of excessive spending. If anyone had defined the objectives and measured the results of the meeting, data would exist that documents expenditures in more terms than just dollars spent. Defining and measuring goals is Meeting Planning 101. Presumably, if this data had been collected, it would have been provided to the auditors and Inspector General.

The Inspector General states that the non-IRS event planners that were used to complete site selection "had no incentive to negotiate favorable room rates for the IRS" because their compensation was directly proportionate to the rates. Although the non-IRS event planners are not named, it appears from the description of their services in the report that they were a third-party site-selection company. If so, why are they identified as event planners at all? This is a problem with the industry jargon we use to refer to site-selection companies, which is now making its way into common usage. The inaccuracy of the term is reflecting poorly on those of us who actually do plan events, as evidenced by this report.
I want to know: Why are we still asking, and being asked, these same questions about expenditures and their validity, and why meetings cost so much? Defining and defending the value of our business has been a core objective of our meetings industry leadership for decades. Why haven't we made more progress?

Rather than bang our heads against the wall each time another one of these embarrassing reports is issued, why not hold our colleagues, peers and industry organizations accountable for actually changing the perceptions of what we do? And even more radical: What about changing the reality of what we do, and not standing idly by any longer while questionable tactics, such as third parties not being incentivized to get lower rates, are accepted as the status quo of our industry?

I don't have the answers, but I'd like to continue the conversation. Please add your thoughts in the comments below, or via email to me at