by Sarah J.F. Braley | December 12, 2016
A new memorandum from the White House Office of Management and Budget, M-17-18, aims to help agencies achieve a balance between sustaining the cost-cutting efforts of an earlier memo, issued in 2012, while not undercutting or preventing agencies from achieving their missions. The May 2012 memo from the OMB specified that beginning in fiscal year 2013, each agency would be required to spend at least 30 percent less on travel than in FY2010; agencies were required to maintain the reduced spending level through FY2016.
 
The new memo states, "Conferences play an important role in the federal government, whether by enabling the sharing of knowledge among large groups, bringing together dispersed communities, or providing opportunities for interaction, collaboration and presenting cutting-edge work. Accordingly, this memorandum amends policies and practices for federal conference sponsorship, hosting and attendance to ensure that funds are used appropriately for these activities."
 
One of the directives in the new regulations states that each agency can designate an appropriate official to approve estimated spending in excess of $500,000 on a single conference that a federal agency is hosting or co-hosting, where previously only the head of the agency was able to make such approvals, tying up the planning process along the way.
 
"It's a very positive memo, and our members appreciate the perceived latitude allowing agencies to choose their appropriate senior official," said Rob Coffman, CGMP, branch chief for strategic meetings management for the Department of the Treasury and immediate past president of the national board for the Society of Government Meeting Professionals. "They can delegate down if they choose. I think many of them will choose to do that, to shorten the review and clearance time."
 
Coffman also noted that the memo references private-sector conferences that federal employees attend, allowing travel to scientific conferences and the like to be pre-approved in a more timely manner, so the travelers can take advantage of early-bird registrations, find hotels that meet the government's per-diem rates and take advantage of reduced airfare opportunities.
 
The memo did not reference the post-event reporting process that went into affect through the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, requiring conference-related data to be reported to each agency's inspector general within 15 days for any event that costs more than $20,000. "It takes quite a bit of man-power to do that," said Coffman. "This memo does not reference that process or minimize those requirements."
 
There is always the possibility that the incoming administration might rescind every executive order made over the past eight years, but as the ones concerning events and travel are cost-effective directives, they might not be overturned.