An Important Letter from AIAA's Executive Director on Government Travel Restrictions
14 February 2013
As we start 2013, there is little doubt that the full impact of 2012 events has yet to play out. In 2012 we witnessed a “perfect storm” of the fallout from a scandal within a federal agency – the General Services Administration (GSA) – and the failure of Congress and the White House to achieve meaningful budgetary progress. This combination has left our Institute facing an atmosphere of tightening government travel rules and shrinking agency budgets – both of which threaten the long-term viability of AIAA.
The GSA scandal and budget reduction goals agreed upon in the Budget Control Act have prompted the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish stringent travel regulations for government employees as directed in OMB Memorandum M-12-12. As a result, agencies have begun to put in place more cumbersome travel approval processes, have placed hard limits on authorizing staff to travel to conferences in a given year, or have banned staff travel to conferences altogether. Simultaneously, this memorandum also directs federal agencies to limit their support and sponsorship of all conferences, symposiums, and professional meetings. While severely impacting our constituencies’ ability to share lessons learned and provide mentoring across agencies, more directly, these actions threaten AIAA’s mission to serve the aerospace community as a forum for the exchange of information and ideas.
We are already starting to see the impact of the government travel policy on AIAA, with somewhat diminished attendance at our recently held Aerospace Sciences Meeting, especially among personnel from the U.S. Army, who have been prohibited from traveling to any type of conference. Our sister societies have likewise felt the impact of these rules, with some of them already having had to cancel their annual meetings on extremely short notice due to lack of agency support for speaker participation as well as attendance.
On the budget front, the threat of sequestration, along with uncertainty as to how and when the U.S. budget crisis will be resolved, has induced the Department of Defense to issue a directive severely curtailing any and all outside activities. This has caused an immediate ripple effect in the science and engineering community, as government personnel have completely pulled out of not only attending conferences, but also sponsoring or supporting them in any fashion. Whether other executive branch organizations take the same action remains to be seen. AIAA has already been directly impacted by the cancellation of the Missile Defense Agency conference we were to hold in March 2013, and by indications that government attendance at other conferences in 2013 will be negatively affected.
I assure you that AIAA is taking vigorous steps to insulate the Institute from further damage brought on by changes in government policy. I attended a meeting at the White House with senior Administration advisors on 6 February to discuss the impact of sequestration on the aerospace community. I emphasized the loss of innovation, critical technology skills and workers, and R&D investment that will befall the U.S. should this across-the-board cost cutting take place.
While we cannot today know how much influence we might have on the issue of sequestration, we are advancing our efforts on other critical fronts. We are working to actively educate policymakers and legislators on the importance of technical meetings and conferences. Discussions with Congress and the Office of Management and Budget are focused on loosening the travel restrictions to make it easier for agency personnel to attend technical conferences and meetings that help them carry out their mission. We are also proactively engaging agencies and branches of the military at the executive level to gain approval for conference attendance at numbers greater than currently planned. We saw some success with this individualized approach as NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Navy approved travel for personnel above the restricted levels for the Aerospace Sciences Meeting. Such efforts, although they require an extensive investment of staff time, are beginning to pay off, giving us hope that we will have similar results with future conferences.
In addition to our ongoing campaign of government engagement, AIAA continues to make structural changes to the Institute itself, most notably the upcoming implementation of our “New Event Model,” which will consolidate more than 20 annual events into five, allowing us to make our events larger, more relevant, and more consistent with the requirements of the new government travel policies. This consolidation to the New Event Model, in progress for several years, was also instrumental in some of the government approvals, since our objectives are very similar – to create more professional value while also benefitting from economies of scale. Additionally, we continue to evaluate new lines of business, continue to evolve the scope of AIAA membership, and continue to make the hard choices that are necessary to ensure that the Institute itself remains strong, flexible, and responsive in these uncertain times.
I ask that you take the time to reach out to AIAA with descriptions of how government travel restrictions and budget limitations have affected your ability to meet with your colleagues at conferences and engage in the interactions necessary for the advancement of technological innovation, education, and national security. Your input will be highly valuable to us as we press forward on this issue. We will keep all identities confidential and use the examples provided to demonstrate the impact of these policies. Please email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have also readied our Constituent Action Center, Capwiz, through which you can easily contact Administration officials and your members of Congress and ask them to provide exemptions that will allow science, technology, and acquisition professionals to attend conferences and meetings. I urge you to visit www.aiaa.org/Capwiz/ to take advantage of these useful tools. After you select either the White House or U.S. Congress letter under the top bright blue bar, you will see background information; scroll down to the “Take Action Now!” area to send your message.
While it is impossible for us to predict the duration of this environment, I can say that the leadership of AIAA and I are committed to navigating through the storm in an effort to keep the Institute on a sure and steady track.
Sandra H. Magnus