Fiscal Year 2019 Report on Conferences Sponsored by HHS Staff Divisions

January 30, 2020

Topics in this report: About the Department | About the Report/Background | Description of the Report | Fiscal Year 2019 Summary | Secretary's Approval of Exceptional Circumstances

About the Department:

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 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 research catalyzes innovative breakthroughs that are shared across a broad audience who attend HHS conferences and other related meetings to accelerate collaboration that is critical for the work of our researchers to leverage and advance the biomedical and scientific mission of their respective agencies.

About the Report/Summary Background

This report addresses HHS Staff Divisions (STAFFDIVs) within the Office of the Secretary and is submitted as required by regulatory policy and law to promote efficient spending on Conferences and Meetings in support of Agency Operations (OMB M-12-12; OMB M-17-08; the Consolidated  Appropriations Act, 2017 ); and the 21st Century Cures Act.  With respect to HHS Operating Divisions (OPDIVs), it is noted they are responsible for preparing and publishing their own individual reports on conference expenses as set forth in the referenced appropriations law and the 21st Century Cures Act.

Summary Background

Since the issuance of Executive Orders to promote more efficient spending in support of agency operations, HHS has continued to take positive steps to gain efficiencies in the use of Appropriated Funds for conferences and meetings while ensuring it remains in full compliance with these directives and all related legal requirements. Building off cross-agency work groups, the Department regularly assesses the enhancement or development of new tools and processes for planning and hosting conferences.  The HHS Conference Procurement and Planning Toolkit was developed as a resource of best practices for planning a conference and for securing contractor services, meeting space, and other logistical support aspects of a conference.  The Department further developed a data tool (Conference Tracking Application) to manage the advanced approval and reporting of conference activities and to aggregate costs across HHS STAFFDIVs supporting the same event. In providing enhanced workflow systems agencies were enabled to process requests to attend conferences more efficiently and accurately.  In 2017 Congress granted approval for HHS Operating Divisions to self-manage the approval and reporting of conference activities.  This action negated the continued need for a department-wide data collection system.  HHS also refreshed its policies in FY 2017 to reflect changes in OMMB 17-08 and the 21st Century Cures Act allowing for greater flexibility in the pre-approval of conference activities. At the same time agencies were reminded of their responsibility to ensure a thorough cost review and comparison in the early stages of the acquisition lifecycle to inform decisions around the best contract method to support conferences and meetings. The Department has periodically worked with OMB and Congress to provide technical assistance in understanding HHS business and administrative practices related to HHS attendance at conferences.

Description of the Report:

Federal Government Agencies are required to report the following information:

  • Expenses for HHS hosted conferences in FY 2019 when costs exceed $100,000, as well as general information about conference activities throughout the year.
  • A description of all conferences hosted or sponsored by HHS STAFFDIVs where net expenses associated with the conference were in excess of $100,000, along with:
    • Total conference expenses
    • Location of the conference
    • Date of the conference
    • Brief explanation on how the conference advanced the mission of the STAFFDIVs and
    • Total number of individuals whose travel or other conference expenses were paid by Government

Fiscal Year Summary:

For FY 2019 HHS STAFFDIVs hosted one (1) conference with expenses exceeding $100,000. This event was sponsored by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC). The purpose of this event was to bring together ONC IT stakeholders with ONC staff and industry experts to explore challenges, industry trends and the future of “Interoperability”.  The ONC Health IT Interoperability Forum was held in Washington D.C. August 21-22, 2019. The total cost was $190,000. The attendance at this event was approximately 600 individuals. Of this total, 8 persons traveled at government expense (3 Federal – 5 non-Federal).

Secretary’s Approval of Exceptional Circumstances

OMB Memorandum M-12-12 established a $500,000 threshold on conference spending, which allowed for a Waiver by the Department head based on exceptional circumstances. HHS Staff Divisions did not host any conferences in FY 2019 requiring a Waiver. 

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