Obama Administration Releases New Guidelines on Federal Travel, Conferences

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last week provided federal agencies with additional guidance on travel and conferences, according to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), which along with other industry associations met with agency officials in March to draft a protocol for meeting planners to use in organizing meetings attended by federal employees.

According to ASAE, OMB adopted many of the best practices put forth in the March protocol, including advisements that hotel costs be within government per diem rates and that social events held in conjunction with meetings not be “excessive or lavish.”

In a memo to federal agencies, OMB simultaneously acknowledged the importance of responsible spending and of “mission-related” travel.

“The Administration has taken aggressive steps to curtail conference spending and has installed strict policies and controls to ensure that conference expenditures are cost-effective and advance the mission and programmatic goals of each agency,” reads the OMB memo. “As each agency reviews its travel and conference-related activities, it is critical for each agency to continue to recognize the important role that mission-related travel and conferences can often play in government operations.”

The memo acknowledges the impact of budget sequestration on federal travel — “these reductions will be a continued constraint on the ability of each agency to carry out important functions, including reduced government participation in mission-supporting conferences and travel,” the memo continues — but urges that agencies should not interpret its guidance as a “moratorium” on meetings and events.

“We are pleased to see the new guidance from OMB stressing the value of professional development and face-to-face meetings,” ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV said in a statement. “ASAE and its members worked with OMB to suggest guidelines that would be beneficial for government employees so they could attend association meetings for business purposes, for training and to discover the latest trends occurring in the private sector. This is a great example of associations and government working together to develop guidelines so both sectors can benefit from face-to-face meetings.”

Although the guidance is issued to federal agencies, OMB and ASAE encourage association meeting professionals to consult the it when planning conferences and events to increase the likelihood that federal employees can attend.

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