Number of postponed federal events rise as partial shutdown is prolonged

Associations and conference organizers say this partial government shutdown is different and is starting to impact their planning and execution of events, train...

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The Homeland Security Department’s Science and Technology Directorate postponed its annual cybersecurity showcase just a few days before the event was supposed to happen.

The Association of Government Accountants (AGA) pushed its federal financial systems event back by three weeks, and may have to rescheduled it again into February.

These are just two examples of the trickle-down effect the partial government shutdown is having on the federal community. The partial government shutdown is beginning to cause chaos in the federal conference and event market, which is a main way agencies, citizens, contractors and the media share ideas and successes, and collaborate to get things done.

Kerry Rea, president of GovEvents, which helps promote and connect events with participants, said only handful of conferences have been cancelled so far. She said for the remainder of January, GovEvents’ website lists 128 events, which Rea said is a strong showing for the first month of year.

But as the partial shutdown continues, the number of events that will need to be postponed is expected to grow.

“I started doing live events in 1989 and there have been five shutdowns since then. But this one is different because of potential for how long it could go,” said Mike Smoyer, president of the Digital Government Institute, which holds more than a half dozen events annually around federal IT issues in Washington, D.C. “When you move a date for an event, you usually are doing it with some definitive that the government will reopen and you can calculate how long to promote and how you need to accomplish your goals. But the challenge here is not knowing when things will get back to normal.. I think that is the biggest challenge for everyone out there. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the shutdown will be resolved in a short time period and we can all get back to work.”

The longer Smoyer and his fellow conference organizers and associations keep their fingers cross, the deeper the impact the partial government shutdown will have on this community.

Along with DHS and AGA, other conference already are starting to feel the impact of the partial shutdown. For instance at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, several government speakers including Andrei Iancu, the director of the Patent and Trademark Office and Dave Redl, the administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, dropped out of the event.

Other associations like AFFIRM, the AFCEA DC chapter and the Federal Business Council have had to cancel or find new dates for events happening in January.

Decision time coming for other events

Ann Ebberts, the CEO of AGA, which postponed their federal systems conference by three weeks, said it wasn’t an easy decision to change the date, but it had to happen.

“We had about 1,000 people signed up. Our rough estimates were about 50 percent of those folks would be impacted by the partial shutdown. And it’s not only the people who signed up, but it’s also the speakers, Ebberts said. “We went down the list and I started with the most senior folks. I checked with them first to get closest to the source of good information before making a decision. They basically said even if some of the speakers were identified as ‘essential’ employees so they were working during the partial shutdown, speaking at an AGA educational event would not be considered ‘essential’ in support of government.”

She said AGA wanted to make sure all the key speakers as well as more than 450 attendees who are local and another 550 who would attend virtually could participate in the financial systems summit.

Ebberts said AGA may have to begin thinking about another postponement as the partial shutdown continues to drag on.

Over at the American Council for Technology and the Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC), they are pushing forward with an event next week on artificial intelligence, but have had to cancel committee meetings and similar get-togethers, said Ken Allen, the executive director of ACT-IAC.

“The big problem we are having is we have seen no list of which agencies and which parts of agencies are actually effected,” Allen said. “We know that DoD is not effected. We know that DHS is effected. Within agencies like GSA, a bunch of the folks are working because they don’t use appropriations. But I happened to find out today that the ethics officers at GSA have been furloughed. It’s sporadic. Different pockets of agencies and unlike past shutdowns which were across the board and effected everyone, this one is sort of haphazard. We can’t tell until we invite them and we never hear from them again.”

Allen says if the partial shutdown continues in later January or early February, ACT-IAC will have to start looking again at the timing of their events and consider postponement.

Smoyer, Ebberts, Allen and others say the discussions with hotels and venues about the option to reschedule have gone well. They say venues are being as flexible as possible and not adding any cost to the changes.

Smoyer said he writes into his contracts that in the event of a government shutdown, they can reschedule an event.

Allen said that is probably something ACT-IAC should consider starting to do as well given the regularity of shutdowns.

Long-term impact of partial shutdown

Even if the partial government shutdown ends in a week or two, the conference planning organizations and associations will continue to feel the brunt of the work stoppage months.

Experts say conference planning starts six months before the event with speaker invites, promotion for attendees, topic development and similar activities.

Smoyer said DGI’s first event of 2019 isn’t until the end of March, but he’s already starting to be concerned particularly about the impact on contractors who tend to sponsor many of these events.

“If doing business with the government gets more tumultuous than normal, you might have the corporate offices cut back on promotional budgets for those companies trying to gain access to the government. That would hurt all organizations like the Digital Government Institute, the media and the whole IT infrastructure here in Washington,” he said. “I believe one of the big systems integrators was talking at an investor’s conference and said they were losing $10 million a week [because of the partial shutdown].”

Smoyer said if the partial shutdown continues for another month or more, his firm’s August conference also could feel the pinch.

Additionally, experts say when federal workers to come back to the office, their first priority will be getting their work done and not attending or speaking at conferences. So organizers also may see lower attendance or speaker participation in the preceding month or two after the partial shutdown ends.

The partial shutdown also may have an impact on the Washington D.C. tourism and travel sector more broadly if it continues on for another month or more.

Elliott Ferguson, the president and CEO of DestinationDC, the convention and visitor’s bureau of Washington, D.C., said so far the impact of the partial government shutdown hasn’t been that great so far in the first few weeks of 2019. He said the good news is this isn’t peak season for tourism or conferences. The Trump administration’s decision to keep the Smithsonian museums and zoo open through the end of 2018 helped to lighten the initial consequence.

“If this was in March or April, which will be the peak season for Cherry Blossoms and visitation to the city, I could assure you this would be a different outcome,” he said. “In 2013, that was the case so therefore we were looking at significant downturns in business and concerns with regards to cancellations.”

Training, awards feeling the pinch

Ferguson said over the short term organizations like metro are feeling the pain of the shutdown, and the longer the partial shutdown continues, the bigger the impact will be on businesses, caterers and tourism.

He said as people begin to plan their spring break trips, if the shutdown doesn’t look like it’s ending, many may consider not coming.

Along with conferences and events, there are some secondary impacts the associations and conference organizations are feeling because of the partial government shutdown.

AGA’s Ebberts said her organization offers more than 70 onsite training for agencies. Some of those scheduled classes have been postponed, and further cancellations could impact AGA’s overall revenues.

ACT-IAC’s Allen said his organization is seeing a residual effect of the partial shutdown on several of the programs it offers.

“The reality is we have to continue to work on the issues. We are working on white papers and projects that need to proceed. We do an annual program called igniting innovation where we select from nominations from around the country about 40 really innovative products and services to display at an all-day show in Washington D.C. The deadline was supposed to be next week. We usually get about 150 nominations and usually at this time we have 75. We have seven nominations today. The private companies, for the most part, say we haven’t been able to work with our government partners to submit nominations. We are pushing back the deadline as much as we can to extend that process,” Allen said.

“The same thing we are seeing on applications for one of our professional development programs called partners, which is for senior executives. We’ve got a lot of great industry applications, but government applications have dried up because of the furlough,” he said.

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