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The Government Services Administration spending scandal has had a rippling effect on the association community, causing one association to postpone a meeting, but more important, producing federal legislation that further jeopardizes attendance by federal employees at association meetings.
As a result of GSA's lavish spending on meetings and other perks it gave to employees, Congress last week passed in both chambers amendments that ASAE has mounted a campaign to immediately modify. The bills impose new spending limits and reporting requirements for all government employees attending meetings and conferences, including, apparently, those conducted by trade associations, professional societies and other types of nonprofits.
The provisions cap nonmilitary 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. ASAE contends that this can be interpreted to mean that if an agency employee attends one conference held by an association, no one else from that agency can 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.
Also, both amendments limit the number of conferences federal agencies can hold annually and the amount agencies can spend on each event – no more than $500,000.
The House added the provision to the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act, which would establish uniform reporting standards for federal spending and set up a single website where interested parties can research how all federal agencies and departments spend federal funds. The Senate attached identical language restricting conference spending to the postal reform bill. Both passed on voice vote.
ASAE has mounted a campaign to get associations to sign onto an open letter to Congress to change the amendments. So far more than 800 organizations have signed. Deadline to sign is May 4.
ASAE public policy SVP Jim Clarke, CAE, said there was no indication from their meetings with Congress "that this is what they wanted to do." He attributes these amendments, as well as a possible rule by the Office of Government Ethics to bar federal employees from attending trade association meetings, on a lack of dialog. "Not having dialog has gotten people's attention. They're concerned and are wanting to get more information," he said.
The GSA scandal has effected at least one association in a very direct way. Global Business Travel Association was forced to postpone its 2012 National Travel Forum, scheduled for June 4-7, when GSA pulled its support. "[W]e cannot hold this important forum without GSA’s participation," GBTA said in a statement. Details: www.asaecenter.org, www.gbta.org.