Late Breaking News
- Categorized in: December 2012
The stricter federal guidance comes as Congress is questioning federal agencies about their conference spending. The increased scrutiny was largely prompted by reports of a 2010 General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas, where exorbitant spending included clowns and mind-readers.
In the latest controversy, lawmakers have been highly critical about two multimillion dollar VA human resources conferences in Orlando last year, as detailed in a recent VA Inspector General report.
Neither has DoD avoided congressional scrutiny of conference spending. In August, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee asked Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta for more information on 64 DoD conferences for which the cost per person “exceeded that of the infamous 2010 GSA Western Regions Conference in Las Vegas,” according to the committee letter.
DoD’s September memo noted that, even with the DoD’s “steadfast efforts to be an excellent steward of taxpayer dollars” and its “continuing implementation of the Secretary’s Efficiencies Initiative and President Obama’s Campaign to Cut Waste,” it “must do more to ensure that conference policies and controls are in place to prevent waste, duplication, and abuse.”
Still, medical personnel, such as the recently retired former Air Force Surgeon General Charles Bruce Green, MD, cautioned that the new conference policies “definitely pose a threat to not just CME but to maintenance of skills and licensure.”
“I know the department will find a balanced way forward but the wind shear in this transition will likely hurt professional associations who will not see attendance at meetings already scheduled and to individual doctors who will get caught with too little CME and no ability to log educational conference time,” he told U.S. Medicine.
Several medical conferences apparently were already feeling the heat from the new conference regulations. On the conference website, officials wrote that the Army “cancelled participation” in the FY13 Uniformed Service Public Health Training Symposium (previously called the Armed Forces Public Health Conference).
“Given the current financial climate, the Army Surgeon General’s office does not feel that we would be supported in a SECARMY request for a waiver of the DoD conference policy, given the costs involved to support a meaningful conference,” the conference website stated.
The Association of Military Surgeons of the United States (AMSUS) made the decision in October to cancel its 118th meeting, originally scheduled for November. In the past, AMSUS meetings regularly were attended by a range of federal and international providers, including surgeons general of the military services.
“Due to unexpected circumstances beyond our control, we have been unable to secure the attendance of a sufficient number of military and federal health professionals to go forward with the meeting at this time,” the organization wrote on its website.
John Class, deputy executive director for AMSUS, told U.S. Medicine that the problem was a timing issue. Getting approval for VA and DoD participation in the annual conference was taking longer than expected, in light of the conference oversight changes.
AMSUS, he said, had still not heard a “definite answer” from either VA or DoD when it decided to cancel in October and, with time running out before the conference, felt that they could not ensure the value of the meeting.
“It didn’t give us enough time to process all of the continuing education, and we were not sure that all the speakers could attend. So we got to the point where we felt we may not be able to put on a quality event, and we just didn’t want to do that to our reputation,” he said.
Class explained that the annual AMSUS conference provides many benefits, including continuing-education courses and networking opportunities with providers from other countries.
“Theoretically, you could come for a week and fulfill a lot of your continuing education requirements, just by coming to AMSUS,” he explained.
As for the annual MHS conference that is scheduled to take place in February 2013, DoD spokesperson Cynthia Smith told U.S. Medicine that organizers are “working to obtain approval” but planning a smaller conference.
“There is a DoD conference review process, and we are working to obtain approval on the MHS Conference because of the great educational opportunities it provides, though we do plan to reduce our attendance numbers and have many other cost-cutting measures in place,” she told U.S. Medicine in a written statement.