Budget pressures and the threat of sequestration claimed another victim — the General Services Administration’s 2013 Expo. The conference had been scheduled for May 14-16 in Orlando. GSA spokesman Dan Cruz confirmed the decision, saying the current budget situation is leaving GSA and other agencies without the money to travel.
“GSA has made the decision to suspend this year’s Expo. With less demand for attendance due to budget constraints, we are adjusting to the needs of our agency partners,” Cruz said in an email. “The GSA Expo and Training conference serves as a valuable forum for government procurement professionals to receive acquisition training and where vendors can access business opportunities with the government. However, in the current fiscal climate, agencies and businesses alike have been forced to make tough spending cuts. After carefully reviewing the projected spending and attendance for this year’s conference, GSA is suspending Expo for 2013 in an effort to use our resources responsibly and to deliver better value and savings for our government partners, our vendors, and the American people.”
Historically, GSA has used the expo for training federal customers on how to use the schedule and assisted acquisitions service. Vendors also have used the conference to reach federal customers to show off products and services.
Last year, GSA, still reeling from the Western Regions conference scandal, toned down the event, and saw attendance drop by about half from the typical 10,000 people. In the wake of the scandal, GSA limited its own employees’ ability to travel to conferences.
Industry reaction to the decision to cancel Expo has been positive.
“GSA is demonstrating leadership in these uncertain times,” said Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. “Why create more stress on agency budgets at a crucial time.”
Waldron said many of his member companies hadn’t made final plans to attend the Expo, so cancelling it now addresses the uncertainty.
“This will not hurt GSA or vendor customers,” he said. “It’s a matter of recognizing the time and budget situation. It would not have worked to have the conference. This was a good business decision for the taxpayer.”
Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Partners and a long-time GSA observer, said he isn’t surprised by the agency’s decision to cancel Expo. He said the website hasn’t been updated to accept registration or let vendors pay for show floor booths and it was less than three months until the event.
“GSA was prepared to have Expo but the reality turned out very few customers would have come,” Allen said. “I think it’s absolutely a good decision on a couple of different levels. At the tactical level, it makes sense to do that this year. GSA was never going to get the customers to turn out, and all industry would have done is be more upset for a second year in a row. From a strategic view, this provides the agency with the opportunity to revamp the Expo format that is close to 20-years-old. It gives the agency an opportunity to see, moving forward, if they want to do collective showcase or go back to a more targeted show.”
He added the agency contracting officers and procurement professionals will feel the biggest impact of GSA’s decision.
“Over the last few years, Expo morphed into a training session first and foremost, and a contractor expo second,” Allen said. “Contracting officers and other procurement professionals that went to the Expo were there to get the training and certifications they needed to do their job or have an opportunity for advancement. This primary show and jewel in GSA’s show crown has always been Expo, so this is a significant cancellation.”
This becomes another in a growing list of conferences cancelled due to budget concerns. The Defense Department last May called off its annual procurement conference. The Air Force decided against having its annual technology conference last June, saving at least $1.4 million. Other events also have been postponed due to travel restrictions and budget cuts.
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 4-7 p.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.