Fearing another backlash against the meetings industry, the U.S. Travel Association has called for “a measured and appropriate response” by politicians following a report about inappropriate spending on convention travel by the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal agency that sets guidelines for government travel.
The head of the GSA, Martha Johnson, resigned this week and two other top officials were fired after the agency’s Inspector General released a report detailing excessive spending of taxpayer funds for a GSA conference in Henderson, Nev., in October 2010.
U.S. Travel President Roger Dow said in a statement that the IG report clearly showed “inappropriate spending and poor decision-making on the part of federal employees.”
But he added, “We hope policymakers will remember that responsible travel” is an valuable activity.
“We know through repeated studies that travel for face-to-face meetings increases worker productivity in the private and public sectors. We also know that meetings, conferences and events are critical to our economy and support 845,000 U.S. jobs,” Dow said. “We hope Congress and the administration will consider these facts when deciding how to appropriately respond to the event from October 2010."
U.S. Travel also said, “The Obama administration has already taken significant steps to strengthen federal travel regulations.”
“If properly followed, federal travel rules and regulations enforce competitive bidding; cost limitations on food, beverages and lodging; and a host of other restrictions that ensure limited spending while allowing productive government business to take place,” U.S. Travel said.
Dow also cautioned that “a single instance of irresponsible decision-making” should not cast a negative light on the meetings, conventions and events industry.
“It is important to remember that this particular event was the result of a failure to follow federal travel regulations that were already in place to protect the misuse of taxpayer funds,” he said.
In 2009, President Obama said that companies receiving government bailout money "can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime." The remark upset hoteliers, who said the public backlash against high-end corporate events was so strong that companies canceled events -- even companies not on the government dole.