Are New Controls on Conferences and Travel an Overreaction?

Government trainings are important. They provide valuable skills to government employees so that they can better do their jobs. However, since the GSA conference scandal, it’s been more difficult than ever for federal workers to justify conferences and trainings. Some of these controls are good, but some may be detrimental to the good work government does every day.

To discuss this, Chris Dorobek of the DorobekINSIDER sat down with Tom Fox, Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service about the new controls placed on federal workers by OMB looking to attend conferences and trainings.

It’s important to keep in mind that we shouldn’t cut off federal workers from interacting with each other and with industry; creating an isolated federal government isn’t in anyone’s best interest. Allowing for government workers to remain highly trained by attending sessions is essential to building and maintaining a high-functioning government. Trainings are much different than the GSA conference that took headlines by storm, and it’s important to recognize that.

Some of the controls placed on conferences are problematic, making it more difficult for government workers to get crucial training. However, there are some controls which are logical and beneficial, such as making government workers justify the trainings they are attending on record. It increases transparency and accountability, and will lead to better trainings.

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

This is a good wake-up call. We need to rethink training and conferences in the virtual world. Maybe we don’t have to travel so far to sit in uncomfortable chairs listening to lectures. Sure, we’ll miss the happy hours and free conference food, but we’ll survive.

Joseph Bloomquist

Yes it is an overreaction. I’m all for accountability, but many of the symposiums, workshops and yes some conferences are necessary. They are how many program managers stay in tuned with their industry. Training and networking are critical.

Marian Henderson

Our state hosted a tax conference back in 2006. It was tremendously educational and I still call on some of the contacts that I made there for help and information. I agree that government workers need to stay on top of their game through education and networking. I could easily pass on another lunch of rubber chicken, though. Is there a happy medium?

Mark Dwyer

I’m kind of torn. In this economy, government does need to be frugal. However, Webinars can be awful at times. I’ve attended about 20 since last September and you really get burned out on them. Often, there are technical difficulties and bad audio, and — besides — you’re just looking at PowerPoint slides the whole time.

I am in favor of local, area-wide trainings for which persons can drive or take public transportation to the sessions. This would save on flights and hotel stays. They could be held at public meeting spaces so that there is no charge for the room.

Henry Brown

Probably an overreaction but IMO a reaction was needed…

There are times when an Webinar will fully address MOST of the agencies training needs. There are other times, when the networking portion of the training will require face to face meetings/training sessions… Good that the agencies are having to justify the training sessions.

Allison Primack

Samuel Doucette shared this response over on GovLoop’s LinkedIN group:

“Yes, they are an overreaction. Let’s face it, no one wants their dirty laundry aired on the front pages of the Washington Post even if that dirty laundry is as much perception as fact-based reality. We all know that in DC, perception often IS reality. So, to avoid this, government agencies overreact toward the other extreme by banning or strictly limiting conferences and travel.

In my agency (DoD/Air Force), we’ve been living with strictly limited budgets for quite awhile so travel has already been cut from when I first came board in 1997. I haven’t gone TDY in three years. We’ve been asked to use online training much more.

I predict the pendulum might swing back a little more but never to the level that we’ll see what happened at GSA. Those days and kinds of trips are gone for good.”

Alice Tsai

What happens when such restrictions are jeopardizing potential training opportunities for fellows who are expected to be trained and/or seeking training opportunities?

What happens when one voluntarily forgoes pay/per diem/financial sponsorship to attend training but even when such request is being denied? Does it really make sense to restrict travel (even on voluntary basis without institutional funding) when the return of training time = multiplied productivity? I truly hope that managers and/or agency leaders would consider this option during this time of austerity. Any advice/thoughts on this type of proposal would be gratefully appreciated.