Despite widespread criticism of excesses, traveling for meetings and conferences is vital to making government more efficient and effective, according to a new study conducted by Rockport Analytics for the U.S. Travel Association. In contrast, canceling government participation in key events carries significant costs and undermines important functions of government.
"The Value of Government Meetings" report, a comprehensive study of the benefits of government meetings and events, is the first to evaluate the impact of sweeping cuts made to federal and state government travel budgets on the public and private sectors, U.S. Travel says.
"Public agencies at all levels of U.S. government have made deep cuts to travel and meetings budgets in recent years," said Jon Gray, vice president of research & insight, Rockport Analytics, LLC, who conducted the 2013 study. "Our research found that these across-the-board cancellations offer short-term savings at a much greater long-term cost."
The report highlights the significant impact of the cancellation of the 2013 Military Health System Conference, an annual training event for several thousand military medical personnel. The study found that due to replacement costs and lost revenue, the event's cancellation will ultimately cost the government more than $800,000, the study says.
Similarly, the decision made by NASA to pull out of the April 2013 National Space Symposium– the world's premier international space exploration and policy event –- had its own negative consequences.
"Some 30 nations are represented at our symposium," said Elliot Pulham, CEO of the National Space Foundation, a private organization that runs the annual conference. "Important international partnerships are jeopardized, important international programs are placed at risk, and the U.S. government places serious strain on relationships with countries around the world when it does not attend."
• Government meetings are more efficient than private sector meetings: Spending on government meetings and event operations in 2011 was significantly lower than that of the private sector – an average of $173 per delegate, per day, compared to $339 for the private sector.
• Private sector meetings are more productive when government employees participate: Nearly three-quarters (74%) of private-sector executives said that having government employees present at meetings and events added value to their firm through knowledge transfer.
• Government meetings benefit citizens and make government more effective: A strong majority of government supervisors (89%) believe that government meetings and events benefit citizens. And 85 percent of government respondents agreed that meetings and events added value to employee development and training.
• Canceling government attendance at conferences increases costs to taxpayers in the long run: The savings and efficiencies of bringing the public and private sector together are lost when conference attendance is cancelled, necessitating numerous duplicate meetings at a greater net cost.
• Government travel delivers a broad economic impact: Government travel for meetings and events had a total economic impact of $24.4 billion in 2011, supported 343,800 U.S. jobs and $14.5 billion in U.S. wages, and contributed $5.5 billion in tax revenue.
"We hope these new findings will encourage congressional leaders to re-evaluate proposals to drastically cut government travel budgets across the country," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "When conducted responsibly, federal workers who travel for conferences and meetings deliver important services and real value to our nation."
"Rhetorically, few could argue with the goal of curbing abuses. Substantively, however, we must take great care not to create more problems than we solve," Dow said. "Striking the right balance is the key."
Travel Effect is a campaign of the U.S. Travel Association, the national, non-profit representing all components of the travel industry that generates $2.0 trillion in economic output and supports 14.6 million jobs.