Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Attending a Conference as a Government Employee

One of the professional goals that I set at the beginning of the year was to attend a conference. This sounds simple. Our GC is supportive of conference attendance. There are myriad conferences on offer. Easy peasy. Right?

Wrong. Now that I'm a government employee instead of a law firm associate, there are many rules surrounding travel and the value of complimentary food or entertainment we can receive. I appreciate the need for ethics and compliance rules to make sure all travel arrangements are above board and all agency resources are used appropriately, but the red tape sometimes left me wishing I had never volunteered as tribute... er, volunteered to travel on behalf of the agency.

How was traveling on behalf of the agency different than traveling as a firm associate?

  • Internal approval process resulted in significant delays in booking airfare, resulting in additional expense to the agency.
  • I handled all arrangements, except for the purchase of the flight, because our department does not have a dedicated administrative assistant.
  • There is a relatively low cap on the daily rate on lodging--the best option available to me on this trip was a Best Western.
  • There is also a low enough cap on the meal reimbursements that it was difficult to avoid coming out of pocket at the conference location. 
  • There is no reimbursement for tips (on meals, Ubers, etc.). 
  • I had to decline certain dinner, reception or entertainment invitations due to the value that could be assigned to such events.
  • The conference fee was waived for LPs. (Law firm attendees, on the other hand, paid a conference fee in excess of $1k.)
The conference content was interesting, but I think I learned more from the informal conversations that took place before and after the formal sessions. I left the conference with a better understanding of how business teams (on both the GP and LP side of an investment) approach a deal and how they view the negotiation of legal documents. (There were few attorneys in attendance so folks were speaking... freely.)

Oh and did I mention the beautiful conference setting?

The ritzy location was what was driving the struggle to keep expenses within the agency's various expense caps. I'll take that struggle in exchange for the spring sunshine, this view, and the sheer delight of the conference lunch coinciding with a major butterfly migration.

Coincidentally, a dear childhood friend lives halfway between the conference hotel and the closest airport. I was able to meet her for a quick meal before I caught my flight home. Truly the icing on the cake.

In the future, I'll look for conferences with more technical content located closer to home.

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