Amid More Conference Controversy, ASAE Helps Develop New Guidelines for Government


Controversy continues to swirl around federal agencies’ spending on travel and conferences. On Tuesday, the Treasury Department’s inspector general will release an audit that found the already beleaguered Internal Revenue Service (IRS) spent $50 million on conferences during a three-year period. The report, titled Collected and Wasted: The IRS Spending Culture and Conference Abuses, covers 200 employee conferences between 2010 and 2012. That means the average bill per event was $250,000, but costs ranged as high as $4 million for one 2010 meeting in Anaheim, Calif. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is already planning an investigation on Thursday based on the audit. The IRS’ new acting commissioner, Danny Werfel, has apologized for the spending, calling it, “an unfortunate vestige from a prior era.” The IRS previously apologized for improper spending on a Star Trek parody video produced for a training and leadership conference.

In part to stem these scandals and prevent future ones, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently issued additional guidelines to federal agencies. The OMB adopted many suggestions offered by the Center for Association Leadership (ASAE). Officials from OMB and ASAE met in March to discuss protocols that the association developed with advice and best practices for planners organizing conferences attended by federal employees. Suggestions include ensuring that hotel costs fall within the price limits set by government per-diem rates and being mindful of the costs associated with social events. In a memo to agencies’ chief financial officers, OMB conceded that recent budget cuts will reduce government participation in conferences, but it recognized the importance of meetings and stressed that the Obama administration does not want a moratorium on travel or conferences attendance.