Fiscal Year 2014 Report on Conferences Sponsored by HHS

January 31, 2015

Topics in this report: About the Report | Description of the Report | Fiscal Year 2014 Summary | Secretary’s Approval of Exceptional Circumstances | Related Material

About the Report:

As the principal Department responsible for protecting the public health and providing essential human services to the American people, effective outreach to our partners, grantees and to the general public is central to the mission of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  Our success is also contingent on our ability to collaborate with the tens of thousands of health care and human services providers, scientific researchers, clinicians, advocates, and other key non-government partners across the country and internationally.  Our support and attendance at scientific conferences and other related meetings is critical for our researchers to leverage and advance the biomedical and scientific mission of their respective agencies.

This report is submitted as required by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum on Promoting Efficient Spending to Support Agency Operations (M-12-12), dated May 11, 2012, which requires Federal agencies to report publicly on all agency-sponsored conferences where the expenses are in excess of $100,000.   

Description of the Report:

In compliance with OMB Memorandum M-12-12, this report includes:

  • Information about the net conference expenses for FY 2014, as well as general information about conference activities throughout the year. 
  • A description of all HHS-sponsored conferences for FY 2014 where the net expenses associated with the conference were in excess of $100,000, along with:
      • the total conference expenses incurred by the agency for the conference;
      • the location of the conference;
      • the date of the conference;
      • a brief explanation on how the conference advanced the mission of the agency; and
      • the total number of individuals whose travel expenses or other conference expenses were paid by the agency.
  • For any instances where the net expenses exceeded $500,000, a description of the exceptional circumstances that necessitated exceeding this amount.  (OMB Memorandum M-12-12 established a $500,000 threshold on conference spending, and allowed the agency head to waive this threshold based on exceptional circumstances).  

This report covers all HHS Operating and Staff Divisions.  It is noted the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), several Staff Divisions, and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) did not conduct any conferences with expenses over $100,000.

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Fiscal Year 2014 Summary:

Over the course of the year, HHS has continued to take positive steps in support of the Administration’s initiatives to gain efficiencies in the use of Appropriated Funds for conferences and meetings.  At the forefront of these efforts was HHS’s work to implement improvements to HHS’s conference/event management practices.  A compendium of best practices for conference planning guidance and models of efficient spending was compiled and released to HHS agencies (HHS Conference Procurement and Planning Toolkit).  This toolkit emphasized the use of HHS multiple award contracts like the NIH’s Conference Administrative and Travel Services Contracts to secure contractor support for logistical and administrative aspects of a conference in driving greater pricing efficiencies and reducing the total cost of conferences held by HHS.  HHS further refined and strengthened its policies and practices for reporting conference spending by successfully working with OMB and GSA to obtain greater clarity in determining the type of activities that would or would not constitute a conference.  GSA subsequently published new clarifications issuing FTR 14-02 on December 13, 2013 to further explain the term conference in determining what types of meeting activities are reportable under OMB M-12-12.  The Department updated its own policy on December 16, 2013 to reflect these changes.  Additionally, HHS continued to make refinements to its Conference Tracking and Approval (CTA) system, an on-line workflow system for the submittal and approval of conferences.   

The following summarizes information about the HHS sponsored conferences in FY 2014 that exceeded $100,0001:

  • Total number of conferences: 80
  • Total cost of the conferences: $19,326,107
  • Total number of attendees: 30,937
  • Average cost per attendee: $625
  • Percent of HHS discretionary budget: 0.02%    
  • Percent of conferences held near agency:   56%
  • Percent of attendees travelling at HHS expense:  21%                   

By comparison, in FY 2013 the Department sponsored 101 conferences at a total cost of $29,150,162.  By implementing controls and efficiencies in conference spending and being more effective in conference planning, HHS has reduced the number of conferences that cost more than $100,000 by 21% and the total cost for such conferences by 31%.   

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Secretary’s Approval of Exceptional Circumstances:

The following conferences received approval from the Secretary to waive the $500,000 limitation on conference spending based on the exceptional circumstances described below.  

Administration for Children and Families (ACF)

Office of Head Start:  3nd National Birth to Five Leadership Institute / Head Start Birth to Three (BTT) Institute and Early Head Start National Resource Center Orientation (NOC) Conference (July 28-31, 2014)

This conference was a professional development opportunity for early childhood professionals working in Early Head Start, Head Start, Migrant and Seasonal Head Start, and American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) programs. The conference focused on the dissemination of best practices and quality services within the respective programs directly related to the Office of Head Start's focus on identifying areas of research, demonstration, and developmental activities. The BTT also supported the implications of research for improved practice. In previous years, the BTT Institute and Early Head Start National Resource Center Orientation Conference were held separately; in 2014, the conferences were combined and run concurrently, reducing the overall cost of the conferences by over $300,000.  Both conferences were the sole national training event designed specifically for professionals working in these practices areas; thus, each meeting respectively drew a large number of attendees. ACF also experienced a larger number of attendees in 2014 due to the increase in numbers of Early Head start programs. In 2014, 1850 people attended the BTT Institute: previously held NOC conferences hosted 250-600 attendees. 

Conference Cost:  $789,605

Date Waiver Approved:  September 25, 2013

Conference Start Date:  July 28, 2014

Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation:  2014 Welfare Research and Evaluation Conference / Head Start’s Research Conference (HSRC) (July 7-9, 2014

This conference was a primary venue for dissemination of early childhood evaluation research.  HSRC started in 1991 and has contributed to the establishment of early childhood research and evaluation as a scientific field of endeavor. HSRC fosters communication between researchers, program staff and the policy makers interested in improving services that support the well-being of low income families with young children. More than 1,100 people attended the biennial conference in 2014.  Reducing the program agenda of the conference would have been inefficient and counter-productive.  For example, reducing the program development efforts would have limited the cutting-edge research presented, while shortening the conference duration would have eliminated high-quality, important content. Reducing the number of speakers with sponsored travel also would have meant selecting second-choice speakers and relying more heavily on presenters with “inside-the-beltway” perspectives. 

Conference Cost:  $515,222

Date Waivered Approved:  July 1, 2013

Conference Start Date:  May 28, 2014

Office on Child Abuse and Neglect: 19th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) (April 29-May 2, 2014)

The 19th NCCAN was the only federally-sponsored conference and national training and technical assistance on child maltreatment. This is the key topic the Children's Bureau funded programs must address because it costs society $124 billion each year to respond to new incidents of abuse or neglect (based on CDC research). The 19th NCCAN disseminated the latest research on evidence-based practices and brought together almost 2,500 state and local child maltreatment policy makers and practitioners, private agency staff, and national researchers (in-person and virtually) for peer learning and sharing of innovative strategies to inform policy and research agendas moving forward.  To successfully execute the size and scale of this conference, this conference included more than 200 workshop sessions, over 400 speakers, 3 plenary sessions, and 5 live webcasts and required hotel conference facilities and contractor logistical support.

Conference Cost: $712,608

Date Waivered Approved: February 2, 2013

Conference Start Date: April 29, 2014

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Center for Global Health:  2014 Stop Transmission of Polio (STOP) Training (January 6-24 and June 5-26 2014)

These conferences (one in January and one in June 2014) were held twice in 2014. Their purpose is to train public health officials for deployment globally to improve polio surveillance and to help plan, implement, and evaluate vaccination campaigns.  Polio has been declared a global public health emergency, and this training was conducted to ensure capacity-building skills and technical assistance abilities based on in-country immunization program needs.  Stop Transmission of Polio (STOP) team members are on the front lines of the polio eradication effort.  Congress included a significant increase in polio funding for FY 2014 with a mandate to eradicate polio.  Since 2011, more than 300 individuals have been deployed to 37 countries.  The large number of training attendees was in direct correlation with the number of STOP team members requested for deployment to the field.  The cost was due to in large part to the travel costs incurred.  However, in order to ensure that all team members receive in depth, up-to-date training on polio and other vaccine preventable diseases before their deployment to the field, it was most cost-effective to bring all team members to Atlanta to receive training simultaneously.   The interactive nature of the training and the participation of numerous subject matter experts ensured an optimal learning environment.

Conference Costs: $1,112,658 each  

Date Waivered Approved: October 28, 2013 and March 3, 2015 respectively

Conference Start Dates:  January 6 and June 5, 2014 respectively

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH)

Office of Adolescent Health: Teen Pregnancy (June 4-6, 2014)

This conference provided onsite training, technical assistance, and a unique opportunity for HHS teen pregnancy prevention grantees to meet and evaluate opportunities for project partnerships, collaborate and share best practices.  The conference allowed Federal staff to directly interact with grantees and provide training and technical assistance to enhance grantee performance related to meeting performance goals, federal funds management and grant reporting and closeout.  Additionally, grantees learned from national experts about best practices, which strengthened their programs; built program implementation skills; explored new trends and strategies in the field to enhance performance; and identified strategies for sustaining their program beyond federal funding. 

The 2014 conference attracted a total of 978 attendees, 937 of which were from organizations receiving Federal funds.  The other 41 attendees included Federal staff in support of the conference, contractor support staff, program developers, and presenters.

Conference Costs: $625,635

Date Waivered Approved: September 11, 2013

Conference Start Date: June 4, 2014

1 Due to the disparate nature of the systems across HHS Divisions used to record conference related expenses, the total costs and attendance levels are best estimates.  Estimated costs are based on readily identifiable and known costs for contractor support, venue and audio-visual related expenses, registration fees, travel, and other miscellaneous costs.

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