A Call to Action Over GSA-inspired Bill
It has become increasingly rare for Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to come together on any issue, but punishing the General Services Administration and placing restrictions on government meetings is evidently one thing they can agree on. Yesterday, inspired by the outrage generated by a 2010 GSA regional conference that cost taxpayers $823,000, lawmakers approved a bill designed to prevent such spending in the future, easily passing it on a voice vote. The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act was originally introduced in June 2011 to create a website where citizens can track how federal dollars are spent, but in the wake of the GSA scandal, it was amended to include limits on the number of conferences agencies can hold annually and to cap spending at $500,000 per event.
There could be even more implications for the meetings industry. Here are some more details, from an ASAE newsletter:
More relevant to associations, however, the provisions also cap non-military spending to attend conferences at 80 percent of fiscal 2010 levels; limit the number of government employees who can attend international conferences; and limit participation by federal agencies to one conference sponsored by an organization per year.
This last provision could be interpreted to mean, for example, that if an agency employee attends one conference held by an association, no one else from that agency could attend any other events held by that association for the remainder of the fiscal year.
The language also requires agencies to report online the details of each conference for which the agency paid travel expenses during the preceding three months. The report is to include itemized expenses paid by the agency; the primary sponsor of the conference; the location of the conference; copies of any speeches or presentations given; and the total cost of any conference that had government speakers.
The Senate has also passed similar requirements, but since it was part of a different bill, the two measures must be reconciled before anything can be sent to President Obama for his signature.
Developments are obviously happening rather quickly. Yesterday, I was interviewing Revent LLC Partner and Voices in Advocacy Founder Roger Rickard about his thoughts on how the GSA scandal might affect the industry for a story in the June issue of Smart Meetings, but much of what we talked about was more relevant to the immediate situation than the long-term outlook. Rickard, a big proponent of advocacy on behalf of the meetings industry, said those who will be affected by Congress’ actions need to speak up—now.
“Our industry does not have a strong enough voice in Washington to stand up and say they’re moving too fast,” said Rickard, whose experience includes working with Meeting Professionals International’s government affairs committee. “The reaction seems to be kneejerk that we’re going to punish the industry for this, and we cannot stand by and let this happen.”
Rickard urged meeting professionals “to call, write, email their congressman and…tell them how [the bill is] going to negatively impact the industry.”
Rather than simply being confrontational, he advised professionals to offer themselves as a resource to lawmakers and a connection to experts who can explain the effects of legislation. “The more people who tell congressmen and senators that we can be a resource for them, the better we will be served,” he said.
Interested in answering Rickard’s call for action? His Voices in Advocacy website offers numerous tools, including congressional directories, strategies for advocates, tips for communication and governmental overviews.
Image: Roger Rickard, courtesy of rogerrickard.com.
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