Shutdown Forces Feds Off the Conference Circuit

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And that could be cutting off agencies from valuable new ideas.

The partial government shutdown is keeping hundreds of government scientists and tech leaders from attending major conferences around the country.

And the lack of intermingling between the public and private sector could deprive agencies of valuable ideas and effective solutions, according to event organizers.

Now in its 18th day, the shutdown forced numerous government officials to drop out of speaking engagements at the Consumer Electronics Show, one of tech community’s most high-profile annual gatherings.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Brendan Carr both canceled their appearances at the conference, as did Federal Trade Commissioner chief Rebecca Slaughter. Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios, White House artificial intelligence lead Lynne Parker and Acting Homeland Security Department Science and Technology Undersecretary Andre Hentz also gave up speaking slots at CES.

Some 700 government scientists were also forced to bail on plans to attend the American Meteorological Society’s annual conference, according to the Associated Press, and another 500 were kept from traveling to San Diego for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics science and technology forum. The American Astronomical Society will also find itself short more than 300 federal scientists at its annual meeting, the largest gathering of astronomers in the world.

The federal conference circuit is also suffering under the shutdown, with the Homeland Security Department canceling a three-day cybersecurity and innovation showcase originally scheduled to kick off Tuesday. The Federal Business Council was also forced to reschedule a vendor conference, which included the General Services Administration, Homeland Security and Housing and Urban Development departments, from Jan. 10 to Feb. 7.

Some may shrug off these mixups as a mere inconvenience for event organizers and feds looking forward to a midweek getaway, but there can be real consequences if agencies don’t show up to public forums.

“Speaking at external events provides an opportunity for agencies to communicate what they are trying to achieve and get valuable feedback from other organizations ... grappling with similar issues,” Ken Allen, executive director of ACT-IAC, told Nextgov. “Conference attendance by government executives is a high ROI and relatively low-cost way to build awareness, gain knowledge and create innovative strategies. The result is better government mission outcomes.”

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