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Convention Planners Glum, after Government Scraps Major Meeting Here

Kevin Killeen
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Kitty Ratcliffe, President St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission

Kitty Ratcliffe, President St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission

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ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–What was supposed to be a big government convention here with thousands of federal employees bringing $6 million in direct spending has been cancelled.

The GovEnergy event set for August at the America’s Center has been scrapped by the government’s accounting arm — the GSA. This — after the GSA itself got caught holding a lavish conference in Las Vegas.

“I think it’s really interesting at a time when we have a national election coming up and everyone who’s running for office is pointing to jobs and the economy that the government can just so casually dismiss the jobs of fifteen -hundred people for a week,” said Convention and Visitors Commission President Kitty Ratcliffe.

Ratcliffe says that’s how many convention-industry jobs will be impacted here — everyone from maids, cooks and waiters to taxi drivers.

Unlike private-sector conventions, the government can cancel its convention contracts without fear of a lawsuit, because the contract allows for “acts of God, war or government regulations.”

The GovEnergy event is an annual trade show and training session for federal employees looking for the latest ways to curb energy consumption. The federal government is the biggest consumer of energy nationwide, and event sponsors included the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and the EPA.

Taxpayer-funded government conferences have come under tighter scrutiny and new rules, after the GSA was criticize for throwing an $800,000 conference with fancy food and hotel rooms in Las Vegas in 2010. In the wake of the scandal, Congressional hearings took place and new standards were put in place for taxpayer-funded government travel.

“We’ve had plenty of time since they put new regulations in place to review the contracts,” Ratcliffe said, “and if they had any concerns about the contract, they could’ve addressed them and asked us if we would consider making revisions. Unfortunately, they didn’t”

Eleven-thousand hotel rooms were booked here for the August 19-22 event. Some ten area hotels will be impacted. Ratcliffe says the streets of St. Louis may look pretty empty that weekend, because it’s too late to book another major convention.

Statement from GSA:

“After a rigorous review of the 2012 GovEnergy Conference, GSA has postponed this year’s conference because it does not meet the new guidelines that GSA has put in place for conferences and contracts. There were many unanswered questions about how the conference was structured and the contracts, and there was not sufficient time to address the problems raised. We are working hard to make sure that all parties are treated fairly.” — GSA Spokesman

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