Meeting Industry Controversy – I Wrote My Congressman

May 12, 2012

I wrote to my representative in Congress this week.  As a proud participant in the Meetings Industry, I am concerned about the backlash that has popped up around the abuses by people working for the GSA in regards to inappropriate use of money spent in regards to conferences.  Similar bad press rumbled around in 2008 because of the WordCom fiasco and the 2011 "MuffinGate".

Waste should not be tolerated by government agencies, companies, associations or anyone who plans meetings. But people who overstep common sense (and the laws) are not proof that meetings are somehow a flawed idea. While people at the GSA broke rules, it does not mean the rules need to be changed.

Meetings matter, and people have been gathering to share ideas, celebrate success, reward achievement and make human-to-human connections for as long as men and women have walked the earth. The meetings industry was responsible for $99 billion direct travel spending in 2011, which impacts nearly 900,000 jobs in the United States.

Since the GSA scandal hit the news, there has been legislation in congress (both approved and pending) that does things like sets limits attendance and money spent on meetings, etc. ... I worry about the politicians who make up random spending caps without really knowing what it takes to produce a meeting.

I wrote my Congressman, Lloyd Doggett, with the intention of bringing attention to this topic to his staff.  While his district is host to one of the country's most popular conferences (SXSW in Austin, Texas), I am not sure that this issue was something that he would have thought much about ... but it matters to the industry I serve (and I have a lot of respect for everyone who works in and around the meetings business). While the GSA issues and related legislation are all in connection to government agencies, there is huge sector of the meetings industry that serves the federal government.

Do I expect my e-mail to Mr. Doggett to matter?  NOPE. But we have to try. When there is an issue that impacts an industry in which we work, or a cause we care deeply about, we must try to be heard over the special interest groups and the political advisers who think jumping on an issue in the headlines will buy votes. If we do not contact our representatives, then they have zero knowledge of what matters to those in their districts.

The meetings industry is very complex, and my guess is few in congress have ever thought much about what goes into creating a meeting ...  as long as their microphone works when they speak and that they get their glass of wine quickly. Before laws are passed on how to handle meetings, they should be meeting with the leaders from the many organizations that make up the industry's thought leadership (PCMA, MPI, ASAE, IAEE, DMAI, etc.)

Have you ever written your representative in Congress?

Editor’s Note: The American Society Association Executives have several ways you can help:

  1. Using ASAE’s template, send a personalized message to your members of Congress educating them on the provisions and what it would mean to your association.
  3. If your organization works with members of the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee AND/OR the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, contact us to coordinate meeting with or contacting those offices to ensure these committees of jurisdiction understand the issue.
  5. Send your stories, anecdotes, and examples of how these provisions would impact your organization to  ASAE will be posting these examples on its Power of A site to give members of Congress a place to visit and see the real-life implications of this policy.
  7. If your organization would like to conduct Hill visits on this issue, contact ASAE and we will help with arrangements and information.

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