Military Conferences Getting the Ax as Budget Uncertainty Continues

By Yasmin Tadjdeh
With sequestration looming, one immediate consequence has emerged out of the uncertainty: military conferences are being canceled left and right.
As the military tightens its belt, officers and enlisted personnel are being barred from traveling to military conferences throughout the country. Industry executives — knowing that there will be few opportunities to interact with military decision-makers — are following suit.
Recent casualties include the 43rd Annual Collaborative Electronic Warfare Symposium in Pt. Mugu, Calif. and the DON IT Conference, West Coast 2013, in San Diego. The Tactical Wheeled Vehicles Conference in Monterey, Calif., and the DI2E Worldwide Training and Technology Demonstration in Tampa, Fla. were also recently canceled. The latter were organized by the National Defense Industrial Association, publisher of National Defense Magazine.
Military conferences and trade shows have been a regular part of business in the defense world, but with the travel restrictions, attendance at the events are seeing large drops, trade associations are reporting.
In a recent memo, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called on all military personnel to “curtail” non-essential travel, with the exception for “mission-critical activities” that would require approval.
The Association of Old Crows, a trade association that focuses on electronic warfare and information operations, canceled the Collaborative EW Symposium that was to be held Jan. 29-31. In a letter to attendees, association President Robert Elder, said that he regretted canceling the conference.
“This is especially hard since we were looking forward to a great exchange between 14 sponsors and exhibitors, as well as nearly 200 attendees from military, government, academia and industry,” said Elder. “We understand that the [deputy secretary of defense] memo is affecting a majority of our community with their budgetary planning and ability to travel to conferences.”
Across the country, other military conferences prepared to host fewer attendees.
While attendance will be lower at the Association of the United States Army’s (AUSA) Institute of Land Warfare 2013 Winter Symposium and Exposition in February, Dave Liddle, director of public affairs and communications for AUSA, said that does not mean there is less demand for the conference, which is being held in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“Will there be a reduced Army presence? Yes,” said Liddle. “But it’s not through a lack of enthusiasm for AUSA.”
Liddle said conferences such as AUSA Winter, and the larger annual AUSA conference held in Washington, D.C., in October, help to move the Army forward. But at the same time, the Army has to weigh its options when it comes to funding, he said.
“There are fiscal realities that all the services are having to face, including the Army. From an AUSA perspective, we have over 60 plus years of supporting the Army through things such as our professional development services,” said Liddle. “The landscape is uncertain, but AUSA stands by our track record and our relationship of support for the Army [and] of the soldier.”
The Navy League of the United States, an association that represents members of the Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Merchant Marine, is still planning to hold its Sea-Air-Space Conference in National Harbor, Md., this April.
“Right now, we are moving full speed ahead to make sure we can have a successful [event],” said John Daniels, senior director for communications and marketing at the Navy League.
Daniels said the conference’s proximity to the Washington, D.C. area makes it ideal for many officials and participants planning to attend by reducing travel costs. Conference costs are also free to active duty military, reservists, retires and government employees. 
While the Sea-Air-Space Conference is currently a go, Daniels said the reason for so many conference cancelations is the continuing resolution and the threat of sequestration the military is facing.
“Congress and the executive branch need to quickly do something to bring sequestration to an end and at the same time they also need to pass a fiscal year 2013 budget and quickly think about a fiscal 2014 budget,” said Daniels, “If there is anything that could help get the military to operating standards that will definitely be it.”
The Air Force Association recently announced that its February Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., would proceed as planned after senior service leaders approved travel there. The association did not return calls seeking comment. 
In San Diego, AFCEA/USNI West 2013 is under way, and attendance is up, said President and CEO Kent Schneider.
“We are never sure about attendance until we get a count of participants through the door, but registration numbers as of 26 January are up slightly over the numbers last year at the same time,” said Schneider. “We expect a strong event.”
The event is organized by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, which represents government, military and industry professionals in communications, IT, intelligence and global security.
While attendance is up and AFCEA has no plans to cancel future conferences, Schneider is still concerned about the future of military trade shows and the budget in general, he said in an email.
“Conferences provide an opportunity for government and industry to dialogue about requirements and solutions,” said Schneider. “One-on-one communication cannot meet all the requirements. Some of this critical communication must occur in group settings like conferences and workshops. Reduced conference budgets could negatively affect this dialogue.”
In response to military guidance, AFCEA has tailored its events to make them more cost effective, he said. For example, AFCEA is locating future conferences in areas where most government attendees can participate through local travel.
While trade shows may take a hit in fiscal year 2013, he does not expect that all of them will be canceled because leadership within the government understands its necessity.
“We have been in communication with the leadership of the services and commands. They emphasize that plans are emerging, but they do not intend to cancel all conference attendance because they understand that the dialogue among government and industry is extremely important, in fact more important in times like this when budgets are constrained,” said Schneider.
In October, AFCEA was forced to cancel MILCOM, a conference that focuses on military communications, because of inclement weather brought on by Hurricane Sandy.
NDIA President and CEO Lawrence P. Farrell Jr. said it is essential that Congress pass a budget in order for the government to do its business.
“The big problem is the uncertainty involving where the budgets are going, and that’s the real problem. We hope all this will get straightened out because the military needs to have a budget, rather than a continuing resolution which we are existing on right now,” said Farrell.
Conference cancellations "affect our outreach and our ability to accomplish our mission, because our mission is to foster a conversation between government and industry and [find] the best ways to support our war fighters,” said Farrell. “If you can’t have events, then you can’t have that conversation.”
Associations are "trying to adjust to this as a new reality, but we are hopeful that we will get back to a normal kind of conference schedule at some point in the future,” he said.
Photo Credit: National Defense Industrial Association

Topics: Business Trends, Defense Department, DOD Budget

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