GSA clarifies conference policy but industry concerns persist

Thursday - 5/10/2012, 1:32pm EDT

General Services Administration employees are not banned from traveling to conferences. But they do need to take a few extra steps to attend.

Industry representatives can breathe a sigh of relief as GSA EXPO in San Antonio next week still will see many agency employees walking the conference halls. The Industry Advisory Council and American Council for Technology's Management of Change Conference in Cambridge, Md., in early June will enjoy more than a few GSA employees beyond the invited speakers.

And a host of other events over the next four months will not face a GSA embargo.

There are some specific rules governing the who and the where.

GSA acting administrator Dan Tangherlini detailed those rules of the road to agency employees in April. Federal News Radio obtained a copy of the memo after several industry representatives questioned and wondered out loud what would happen to EXPO and other usually GSA-heavy conferences.

Tangherlini wrote in the memo that all travel through the end of fiscal 2012 for "internal GSA meetings, training, conferences, seminars, leadership or management events, etc., whether paid for by the government or another entity is suspended unless exempted by one of the following sections:"

  • Travel is permitted for approved conferences for external audiences based on specific rules. Travel is also permitted to perform GSA's essential mission functions, such as to work with other agencies or customers of GSA, conduct litigation, perform program performance reviews or audits, property auctions or building inspections, or other similar operation-related work. Only travelers essential, as determined by management, to the performance of the relevant function are permitted to travel.

  • Travel for routine management meetings that require in-person presence, after other options such as video teleconferencing are considered, may occur upon waiver of this policy by the acting administrator or deputy administrator.

  • Travel for training will be limited to essential job related skills and development and consistent with approved individual development plans.

Tangherlini also wrote conferences where the primary purpose is to expand or advance GSA's services or the service's of their customers or is client-related or project related "may be permitted to go forward after an approved business justification and conference budget."

He said the head of the service or staff office, regional administrator and the chief administrative services officer and the chief financial officer must approve the request before any procurement activity takes place or cost is incurred by the organization sponsoring the event.

"As previously stated, GSA is conducting a top-down review of our agency's operations. This comprehensive review of our agency operations includes our travel policy," said Adam Elkington, a GSA spokesman in an emailed statement.

Sources say there will be fewer GSA representatives at the EXPO conference. One source said as many as 50 fewer Federal Acquisition Service employees were told a few weeks ago they weren't going to San Antonio.

Others in industry say GSA participation in vendor dinners or events also will be much lower, maybe by more than half.

Since the scandal at the Western Regions Conference became public, GSA has cancelled more than 35 conferences, including the most recent one for Web managers next week in Washington.

Other agencies also have cancelled conferences. The Defense Department decided to call off its annual procurement conference in Orlando. Military officials said they needed more time to better align the training programs with DoD acquisition policy.

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