This February is likely the last time for awhile the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) will host its Winter Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Holding the winter meeting at the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center — what has become the meeting’s traditional site — is in jeopardy for the same reason defense conference managers nationwide have had to review if it’s worthwhile to hold their conferences in 2013 — budget cuts.
For years, soldiers and defense industry officials have traveled across the country to attend the major annual conferences put on by the Army’s largest advocacy group, AUSA.
But as the Army looks ahead to smaller budgets it appears those numbers could shrink. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter issued a memo ordering each service to cut travel and conference expenses ahead of potential sequestration cuts.
Those cuts would force the Army to subtract $18 billion from its budget by October 2013 unless Congress and the White House can forge a deficit reduction plan by March 1.
If the soldiers can’t come to AUSA events in the future, the 60-year-old organization will have to go to the soldiers, said David Liddle, AUSA spokesman.
“There’s nothing written in stone about how to do this,” Liddle said. “If the Army has budgetary concerns, maybe we fold up the tent and move it and set it up closer to different installations each year. We’re wide-eyed and clear-eyed about the financial situation.”
Other defense industry conferences have already been cancelled for 2013 including the Association of Old Crows’ sponsored Collaborative Electronic Warfare Symposium, the Department of the Navy IT Conference, the Tactical Wheeled Vehicles Conference, and the DI2E Worldwide Training and Technology Demonstration, according to National Defense Industrial Association.
Despite the order to curb travel costs, the Army is supporting AUSA’s Winter Symposium. Army Secretary John McHugh issued a statement saying soldiers were approved to attend AUSA’s Winter Symposium to quell any concerns from soldiers who planned on attending, but were worried about Carter’s memo.
The winter meeting still has lined up senior Army officials, including Gen. Robert Cone, commander, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, Army Special Operations Command, and Gen. Dennis L. Via, commander, U.S. Army Material Command. However, Odierno and McHugh are notably not scheduled to speak.
The belt-tightening has translated, overall, into a dramatically smaller Army presence.
The Army plans to send just 75 soldiers and civilians to the Winter Symposium and will incur a cost of less than $160,000 related to travel, accommodations and other expenses, according to published reports. In comparison, the Army last year sent 500 people at a cost of $3 million.
“So the Army did exactly what the Army secretary told them to,” Liddle said. “The enthusiasm is there, but the dollars aren’t.”
In order to make AUSA more accessible to more soldiers, Liddle said it’s like that AUSA will take its Winter Symposium on the road next year. It’s possible next year’s event will be held next year in Raleigh, N.C., according to Liddle. That will put it less than a 90-minute drive from Fort Bragg, home to the Army’s airborne and special ops forces, and a four hour drive from the Pentagon and Washington D.C.
After that, who knows, says Liddle.
AUSA hosts or takes part in a number of conferences and symposiums every year, within the U.S. and abroad. For the most part, the venues are fixed and AUSA is not the primary backer. In these cases, the organization will go where the event is.
It’s also unlikely that it would move its national conference out of Washington, DC, where it takes over multiple floors over the two-block Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
But where it can adapt to meet the new financial reality it will.
“If the Army can’t come to us, we’ll find a way to go to the Army,” he said.