The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has revised its guidance on policies and practices regarding U.S government employees and agencies participating in conferences.

In a memo to federal department and agency heads, OMB Director Shaun Donovan amended the guidance OMB issued in 2012 (OMB Memorandum M-12-12) that reduced travel spending and instituted tough management controls for conference participation.

The 2012 guidance was issued to comply with the president’s direction to cut administrative expenses. It was also in response to an Inspector General report that in 2010 the General Services Administration (GSA) spent close to one million dollars on a training conference in Las Vegas.

Donovan said that since 2012, agencies “have achieved significant savings in conference spending and strengthened internal controls to monitor travel and conference-related activities.” Donovan emphasized the revised guidance acknowledges the lessons learned and the actions agencies have taken, but also recognizes the challenges faced over the past few years, especially “reduced opportunities to perform agency functions, present scientific findings and innovations, train, recruit, and retain employees, or share best practices.”

The revised guidance “amends policies and practices for Federal conference sponsorship, hosting, and attendance.” The guidance stresses the importance of conferences and eases some approval requirements. But, it still requires detailed annual reporting on conference participation.

In the memo, Donovan stresses that OMB understands the important role conferences play in the operations of the federal government.  He said conferences enable “the sharing of knowledge among large groups, bringing together dispersed communities, or providing opportunities for interaction, collaboration and presenting cutting edge work.”

Under the revised guidance, agencies are directed to continue to ensure:1) “that Federal funds are used only for necessary and appropriate proposes” and 2) that all conference attendance and expenses are appropriate to the agency mission and comply with the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) and Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).

OMB directs agencies to designate an official “to approve estimated spending excess of $500,000 on a single conference and submit justification that attendance is the most cost-effective way to achieve a “compelling purpose.”

Agencies should make sure that decisions on conference participation and attendance are made in a timely manner “to ensure that conference attendees are able to commit to participation in a timely manner and take advantage of cost-savings measures such as early registration and advance travel bookings,” according to the memo. To prevent lengthy review processes, OMB states that agencies “should pre-approve, as appropriate, employee attendance at known recurring conferences.

OMB also requires agencies to report conference expenses on their official websites. OMB directs agencies to report by January 31 of each year a “description of all agency-sponsored conferences from the previous fiscal year where net expenses exceed $100,000. If net costs for an agency-sponsored conference exceed $500,000 the website should identify the approving official and the rational for approval.