Feds Ease Up on Conference Restrictions for Government Employees

The U.S. government, including both the Obama Administration and Congress, has spent the last several years talking about how to restrict federal employees' participation in meetings and events. A new policy, however, indicates that the feds might be loosening their grip.

In a memo published last week, Director Katherine Archuleta announced that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would end its longtime practice of reviewing requests submitted by federal agencies seeking approval to attend conferences and trade shows.

"Effective immediately, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is discontinuing its practice of issuing memoranda regarding whether conferences qualify as a training activity," Archuleta said in her memo. "OPM is discontinuing this practice to make clear that agencies are responsible for their employees' training and development."

According to federal regulations, government agencies may send employees to conferences when:

• The announced purpose of the conference is educational or instructional;
• More than half of the time is scheduled for a planned, organized exchange of information between presenters and attendees;
• The content of the conference is germane to improving individual and/or organizational performance; and
• Development benefits will be derived through the employee's attendance.

Government agencies have previously said that the onerous approval process in some cases has discouraged them from requesting permission to send employees to conferences in the first place. Giving agencies more authority to make their own decisions on what events have value is a positive sign that the government sector is changing its tune on meetings.

Another sign occurred in February, when the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced it would consider exceptions to rules mandating reduced federal spending on travel to conferences.

"Agencies are responsible for finding the right balance between reducing spending and meeting mission critical needs," OMB stated in a memo. "If agencies have new mission critical travel needs … OMB will entertain proposals for [increased travel budgets]."

For a recap of recent top stories, check out MeetingNews Minute: