GSA Scandal Could Impact Travel

Abuses by federal General Services Administration (GSA) staffers over a reported $823,000 employee training conference the GSA held in Las Vegas in October 2010 drew a cautionary note from the U.S. Travel Association. The association expressed concern with the economic impact on the meetings, conventions and events industry.

Noting the Inspector General's (IG) report investigating the conference, U.S. Travel Association urged federal lawmakers "to carry out a measured and appropriate response to the findings of the report." The conference featured spending on a clown and a mind reader.

The GSA scandal has already brought down the agency’s administrator and two deputies and a Congressional investigation on the misuse of federal money by the GSA is promised.

"The findings of the IG report clearly detail instances of inappropriate spending and poor decision making on the part of federal employees," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "At a time when Washington is laser-focused on creating jobs and curbing wasteful spending, we hope policymakers will remember that responsible travel can help accomplish these goals."

"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. We hope Congress and the Administration will consider these facts when deciding how to appropriately respond to the event from October 2010," Dow said.

The IG's report comes at a time when the Obama Administration has already taken significant steps to strengthen federal travel regulations, U.S. Travel said in a statement.

U.S Travel noted that in September 2011, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memorandum to Executive Branch agencies requiring a comprehensive review of all conference spending policies. In November 2011, President Obama issued an Executive Order directing federal agencies to reduce government travel by adopting a "local first" policy for conferences and employee travel.

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.

"The American people demand two things of their government: to be responsible stewards of their hard-earned tax dollars and to provide valuable services that benefit this country. Federal travel, when conducted responsibly, fulfills both of those promises," said Dow.

"Unfortunately, a single instance of irresponsible decision making has the potential to cast a negative light on the millions of men and women who work every day to make America's meetings, conventions and events industry the best in the world. 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," Dow said.