Government Travel Aids Communication, Collaboration Public-Private Sector
IFA is working to ensure that elected officials understand the benefits federal conferences and travel offer to the business community and the government.
Some of the most useful tools for government agencies in their mission to serve the public are travel and face-to-face meetings. Many agencies host conferences, bringing professionals together to discuss important issues, resolve disputes and share best practices. These agencies also send delegates to private conferences to increase the accessibility of officials and gather the best information available to make decisions.
The franchise community, which is geographically and economically diverse, benefits from this free exchange of ideas more than most. It is difficult for some franchise small-business owners to leave their businesses long enough to travel to government offices for individual meetings. Conferences and other government travel allow officials to meet directly with the public they serve, with minimal inconvenience for either party.
Business leaders agree that this sort of travel benefits all parties involved. According to the results of a recent study conducted by Rockport Analytics, nearly 75 percent of private-sector executives responded that their companies benefited from government-employee attendance to conferences and meetings. More than 40 percent of those executives also reported that government participation in meetings and conferences allowed them access to knowledge not available elsewhere, while a similar number answered that attendance of federal employees at these meetings provided greater awareness of government programs. In essence, face-to-face meetings enable more effective communication between the business community and regulators.
Government travel doesn’t just benefit the private sector; it also makes the government more efficient. Nearly 85 percent of government respondents to the study indicated that meetings and conferences enhanced employee development and training. More than 70 percent indicated that these events facilitated knowledge transfer and the bridging of information gaps. This consensus between public and private leaders is a testament to the value that government travel offers to the public.
Furthermore, the federal government is able to offer these benefits at lower costs than individual organizations, as its size puts it in a much better position to negotiate with travel providers for reduced rates. Employees attending government meetings and conferences spent an average of $185 per day in 2011 while private-sector meeting attendees averaged $224 per day. Spending on government meetings and conference operations was also significantly lower than that of the private sector at $173 per delegate, per day, versus the private sector’s $339.
Government Travel Cuts
Despite the substantial advantages provided by government travel and conferences, these expenditures are often the target of sizable cuts. In the current economic and political climate, curbing frivolous, excessive or otherwise wasteful spending is at the top of many officials’ agendas. The discovery of several isolated cases in which federal employees had abused the travel system has made conference and travel spending subject to intense scrutiny.
Since the passage of S. 1347, the Conference Accountability Act of 2013, and the issuance of Executive Order 13589, many agencies have seen their travel and conference budgets subjected to dramatic downsizing. Although there might have been a small number of bad actors who manipulated the system, the overwhelming majority of government travel is meritorious. When adjusted for inflation, the cuts necessitated by S. 1347 and other recent policy changes amount to an over 20 percent reduction in total government expenditures on travel.
While reducing wasteful spending is very important, these policies would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on legitimate government travel and conferences. Such a large reduction would ultimately decrease government productivity, impair the ability of federal agencies to complete their missions and harm businesses that depend on the government for essential services. The cost of cutting meritorious travel far outweighs the limited amount lost every year to abuse and negligence.
Fortunately, congressional leaders are taking steps to address this important issue. The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs recently conducted a hearing titled “Examining Conference and Travel Spending Across the Federal Government.” Committee members heard testimony from public and private officials on the value offered by government travel, as well as the costs of arbitrarily limiting it. Committee chairmen seemed receptive to the concerns expressed by the speakers, and voiced interest in a legislative solution to the problem.
The International Franchise Association is working with other industry partners to ensure that elected officials understand the benefits that government conferences and travel offer to the business community and the federal government.
Jay Perron is the vice president of government relations & public policy for the International Franchise Association. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org.