Officials Battle Government Meeting Blacklist

Armed with a White House letter that affirms government meeting sites should be selected based on value and business need, the Florida and Nevada congressional delegations late last month introduced House and Senate bills that would prohibit federal agencies from blacklisting Las Vegas, Reno, Orlando and other resort destinations as potential meeting hosts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also forwarded to every Cabinet secretary and federal agency head the letter in which White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel wrote, "I agree that federal policy should not dictate the location where such government events are held," and, "Our view on the issue of government travel is not focused on specific destinations, but rather on the justification for and the cost/benefit ratio of the individual exercise."

The legislative moves were prompted by concern about an unofficial blacklist of resort destinations as meeting sites by several U.S. federal agencies. U.S. Travel Association senior vice president of public affairs Geoff Freeman told MeetingNews the departments of Justice and Agriculture acknowledged asking meeting planners to avoid some destinations, though at press time neither had backed off from the policies, he said, adding the Department of Homeland Security was developing a similar policy.

"We've seen greater legislative activity to address what is clearly discriminatory behavior, and we're encouraged by the outpouring of support," Freeman said. "However, we're not going to rest until the policies are changed."

Reid wrote to Emanuel in late June to request a reversal of any such policy, citing an instance in which "a Federal Bureau of Investigation conference was relocated from Las Vegas to another city on the order of the FBI Director on this basis. We are aware of similar action being taken by the General Services Agency and the Bureau of Indian Affairs."

Reid's Senate bill, introduced July 29, would "prohibit federal government agencies from discriminating against U.S. cities." Seven representatives from Florida and Nevada introduced a similar House bill that day.

"What doesn't make sense is encouraging people to spend more money to avoid what somebody else deems to be inappropriate behavior," Freeman said. "To suspend more taxpayer dollars to worry about perception is certainly not the right policy."

Originally published Aug. 10, 2009