The Association of the United States Army will pay the travel expenses for about 280 Army personnel to attend the association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., officials said Thursday.
The offer from AUSA will cost about $630,000, and it comes after the Oct. 1 government shutdown canceled or suspended most temporary-duty travel.
“AUSA proffered the funds, and the Army was able to accept them in the amount of $630,000,” said George Wright, an Army spokesman.
The Army typically pays for its own TDY costs for the annual meeting, and officials said they couldn’t think of the last time AUSA has picked up the tab.
David Liddle, a spokesman for AUSA, confirmed that the association is helping defray the Army’s costs as the service faces “unique circumstances” with the Budget Control Act of 2011, sequestration and the ongoing shutdown.
“AUSA was happy to proffer monies at our expense, not taxpayer expense, so that key individuals in the Army could avail themselves of the opportunity to go to the annual meeting,” he said. “This is a one-stop shop for the Army, once a year, to have a conversation about what’s going on with the Army, what’s going on with the soldier, what’s going on with the families, and what’s going on with industry partners. This is the best use of monies that could be allocated.”
The AUSA annual meeting is Oct. 21-23 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. Army Secretary John McHugh in early September signed off on uniformed attendance at the conference, and as many as 450 soldiers initially were authorized to travel to the conference.
Since the government shutdown, a number of soldiers, including some who are scheduled to speak at the annual meeting, have expressed uncertainty and confusion about whether they will have the funds to travel to the meeting.
The Army has already spent about $350,000 on the AUSA annual meeting; the money paid for items such as exhibits and office space, Wright said. The $350,000 came from fiscal year 2013 funds, Wright said.
“The Army has long felt that AUSA is an important professional development event at which forums and presentations provide vital updates on Army policies to the field,” he said. “It also provides a venue for recognition of soldier and unit excellence.”
The money proffered by AUSA to cover travel costs is covered by 31 U.S.C. 1353, officials said.
According to a Defense Department fact sheet, the department may accept travel benefits in-kind or by reimbursement from non-federal sources for DoD personnel in their official capacities to attend meetings, conferences, seminars, symposia, and other similar functions.
Travel benefits include transportation, lodging, meals and related expenses, according to the fact sheet.
Planning for the annual meeting continues, said Col. Gary Kolb, an Army spokesman. He added that most of the soldiers participating in the annual meeting are already stationed in the D.C. area.
Retired Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gordon Sullivan, president of AUSA, encouraged members and soldiers to attend the annual meeting in a statement released Thursday.
“The Army will support our meeting in keeping with its traditions and Army objectives,” he said. “We will have a great annual meeting, and AUSA again will demonstrate its enduring support for our Army, our soldiers, and our families.”
The Army’s “enthusiasm for the annual meeting is unabated,” Liddle said.
“It’s a dollars and cents issue, so what we’re doing is working very closely with them on things like live-streaming, so people who can’t be here can participate,” he said.
Most of the sessions and panels during the annual meeting will be live-streamed on the AUSA website, the Army’s website and on DVIDS, the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, Liddle said.
This year, online viewers also will be able to ask questions of panelists and speakers via Twitter and the hash tag #AUSA2013, Liddle said.
“We will take full advantage of technology and social media to mitigate our reduced attendance at this event,” Wright said.
The Army also has sent a memo to troops in the D.C. area letting them know it’s “totally, absolutely OK” to attend the annual meeting, Liddle said.
“It’s full-steam ahead,” Liddle said. “We’ve had no cancellations.”
Liddle said AUSA anticipates this year’s annual meeting will draw about 30,000 attendees, similar to the number from last year.
“We’re going to have this thing regardless,” Liddle said. “We’re happy to help. This is AUSA’s commitment to the Army.”