For the first time in four years, the Obama administration has relaxed guidelines on federal employee attendance at conferences may have a positive impact on associations.

The updated guidance issued last week by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reflect changes to the rules issued by the White House in 2012 to drastically reduce government travel after inappropriate conference spending by federal agencies was first reported and investigated by Congress.

The updated memo reinforces the positive role of face-to-face attendance at conferences and modifies the conference approval process for federal agencies, with the goal of reducing bureaucracy and maintaining fiscal responsibility.

“Conferences play an important role in the Federal Government, whether by enabling the sharing of knowledge among large groups, bringing together dispersed communities, or providing opportunities for interaction, collaboration and presenting cutting-edge work,” the OMB memo states.

The updated M-12-12 memo makes three major changes to the conference approval process. First, the memo focuses on approval and oversight on agency-sponsored or hosted conferences and not outside conferences. This provides agencies with more flexibility for approval.

The memo also allows for pre-approval of known reoccurring conferences, especially conferences not sponsored by the government. Finally, the updated memo does not extend the funding caps that expired at the end of the 2016 fiscal year in September. In the past, federal employees had been reluctant to approach supervisors about attending outside conferences because of the rigid caps and rigorous approval processes in place throughout the government since 2012.

“This update provides many of the process changes that members of the association community have been asking the administration to make since 2012,” said Jim Clarke, CAE, senior vice president of public policy. “While we’ve seen real progress in terms of senior government officials and lawmakers recognizing the value of meetings, we’ll need to continue to emphasize and cultivate this understanding with the new administration.”