OMB: No More Lavish Government Conferences

New guidelines from OMB will cause pain for conference organizers and government employees.

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(T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)
Jeffrey Zients, acting director and deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, testifies before the Senate Budget Committee on the president's fiscal year 2014 budget proposal. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

New guidelines from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget say it's time to cut back on conference spending in light of the sequester. In a document, the agency said it had "taken aggressive steps to curtail conference spending," such as ensuring conferences that cost more than $100,000 were approved by the head of an agency, hotel costs were within per diem rates, and that a cyber conference was considered before any in-person event was planned.

That means no more lavish gatherings outside of Washington, such as the General Services Administration's 2010 conference in Las Vegas, which cost $800,00 and included taxpayer-funded hotel suites and Italian wine, or like the Internal Revenue Service's 2008 conference in Atlanta, which cost $2.4 million and included an open bar and video spoof of the Olympics complete with faux torches.

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It also means more pain for everyone involved, with conference organizers telling Whispers they've felt the effects of the budget crunch for months.

FOSE, a major annual technology conference, was recently forced to make its 2013 event free to all government employee attendees.

"We were looking at a bleak situation," says Mike Eason, vice president of public sector events at 1105media, which produced the FOSE conference. "We made our content free for government attendees, and we paid for it on the exhibitor side. But obviously we didn't make up the whole difference."

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The Department of Homeland Security called off its 2013 9th Annual GFIRST Conference, which was supposed to take place in Texas this August, blaming "the challenges posed by sequestration."

Science conferences, meanwhile, have seen their agendas upended. The Seismological Society of America's annual conference had 17 papers withdrawn and 19 presenters cancel, according to Environmental & Energy Publishing.

In March, NASA said it, too, had reduced conference spending by 30 percent.

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