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plenary Government Meetings + Trade Shows in Two Years

been held in St. Louis. Under new leadership, the agency has canceled 37 previously scheduled conferences. In the middle of the controversy are

government meeting planners, whose job is to fulfill their bosses’ or clients’ expectations while navigating an ever- changing maze of legislative and agency regulations. For an insider’s perspective, we talked to Garland Preddy, CGMP, a special events con- sultant to the United States Marshals Service (USMS) and an adviser on planning federal gov- ernment events to hotels, CVBs, govern- ment agencies, and event-management companies. Preddy, who

began planning events for the Department of Jus- tice during the Rea- gan administration, has taught courses on meeting topics for George Wash- ington University and George Mason University. At the annual meeting of the Society of Government Meeting Profes- sionals (SGMP) this past May, Preddy was named the 2012 Sam Gilmer Plan- ner of the Year.

Has the GSA scandal created a crisis in the meetings industry? It is very damaging to the hospitality industry, because government meet- ings are stable. When associations and corporations are not traveling, we are usually pretty economy-proof — the government continues to meet. This has put a real crimp in the way govern- ment does business. I work for the Department of Jus-

tice [DOJ], and we have to go through all kinds of permissions and authoriza- tions to hold a meeting. We have actu- ally been required since 2005…to hold


our meetings in federal facilities unless we get a waiver from the Department of Justice. They are really enforcing that now. I just set up two meetings, one in

Garland Preddy The GSA spending scandal and ongoing investigations into government meetings ‘has put a real crimp in the way government does business.’

San Antonio and one in Seattle. And we were very lucky to be able to find federal facilities with nearby hotels. That is not going to be the case in a lot of the second- and third-tier cit- ies. They are not going to have the available federal facilities. There are a lot of federal facilities, but whether they have adequate meeting space is another issue. So if you are trying to use a non- federal facility, you have to get authorization from the DOJ to do that. My feeling is there is an

initial knee-jerk reaction from Congress; they typically operate that way, by not really examin- ing the whole issue. During Muffingate, DOJ was accused of spending $16 or whatever for a muffin. Nobody even remem-

bers that now, since all the GSA scan- dals are going on. But that was a case of knee-jerk reaction from a report. Somebody did not get the full informa- tion — and it turned out not to be true. You cannot un-ring a bell. That created a lot more reporting requirements. I think there are plenty of rules and

regulations out there — we do not need more. We need more scrutiny and we need more current review. For example, the GSA event in Las

Vegas took place in 2010. It is two years later. Lord knows what has happened in the two years, since that appears to be the way GSA did business. In 2010 they did an awards cer-

emony locally here in Arlington, [Va.,] and spent a quarter of a million dollars. That was not hotel costs — I just did an awards ceremony there last week. The attorney general was our keynote speaker, and [the salesperson I worked with] was the person who did that

GSA meeting [in 2010]. She said the hotel costs were under $25,000. So the additional $225,000 went to the guitar- ist, the violinist, the [commemorative] drumsticks … whatever else they were doing to embellish their awards cer- emony. So you have to dig deep into the report to see what the transgressions have been.

How do you think we got here? I believe that no one was looking. I teach an ethics class [titled] “Doing the Right Thing When No One Is Look- ing,” and I think that in the case of GSA, they have been doing [things that way] probably since way before 2010. And it seemed to me, from reading the report, there was almost some competition between the regions and their confer- ences: “Let’s make this the best ever, let’s make this better than the East Coast conference, let’s go over the top with this.” And so, given those guide- lines, the planner did that. I have a lot of heartache for [the GSA

planner who did the Las Vegas event]. I am wondering, if my boss came to me, and I know the rules and regulations — for goodness’ sake, GSA writes the rules and regulations — but suppose my boss came to me and said, “Okay, Garland, I want this to be absolutely over the top. Spare no expense, do whatever you have to do. I want this to go down in his- tory” — which it certainly has — “as the best GSA regional conference ever.” So as an event planner, I am torn here. What do I do? Do I call in the law-

yers? Do I call in the ethics officer? Do I call in the procurement people to make sure that I could still do an over-the- top meeting, but within the legal and ethical parameters? Or do I just go full steam ahead? So it is going to be a real issue for the government planner if tasked with doing that sort of event. I am just speaking from my point of

view, but we had a director here [at the DOJ] some years ago, and I knew that I was setting myself up to fail by doing


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