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By Sandra Basu
WASHINGTON—In the wake of new federal conference oversight, the military medical services are navigating how to ensure that medical personnel can continue to receive vital continuing medical education and keep up with the latest advances in their field, while adhering to new conference regulations.
In September, DoD released a memo describing how it would implement conference oversight guidance provided by the Office of Management and Budget earlier this year.
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The OMB guidance requires agencies to decrease spending on travel by 30%. In addition, deputy secretaries must review any conference that could cost more than $100,000, with expenses of more than $500,000 prohibited without a waiver from the agency’s secretary. Conference spending data must be publicly posted each January by federal agencies.
DoD’s September memo noted that, while Panetta and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter remain accountable for all of DoD’s conference-related activities, “a small set of the department’s senior leaders will have the authority to approve and grant waivers in exceptional circumstances, as required by the OMB memo, for any conference with a total cost to the Department above $500,000.”
“These officials will also act as the approval authorities for all conferences, regardless of total cost, that involve a co-sponsorship relationship or no-cost contract with a non-federal entity and/or a request for approval of spousal travel — as well as for all conferences hosted by a non-DoD entity where the total cost of attendance to their DoD Component exceeds $20,000.”
Army Medicine officials said they are conducting a review to determine the impact the guidelines will have on medical personnel.
“We anticipate that the new DoD conference regulation will have an impact. The Army interim guidance is more restrictive than the DoD conference regulation; it includes a moratorium against non-DoD conference attendance until 31 December 2012. New Army guidance is expected at that time,” the officials noted.
“Presently, the leadership of Army Medicine is conducting a thorough review to determine precisely what that impact might be and how we can best mitigate the potential risks while ensuring strict compliance with the existing regulation. Because this review process is ongoing, it would be premature to speculate on the findings.”
Air Force Surgeon Lt. Gen. Thomas Travis told U.S. Medicine in a written statement that the Air Force Medical Service is following DoD policy regarding conference approval but is “taking special care to ensure graduate medical education and continuing medical education requirements are met.”
“We have developed a process to project future conference attendance requirements far enough in advance to comply with the approval process and assure that all of our professionals can meet their education and certification requirements. We are doing this from headquarters level to minimize the impact on our medical facilities,” Travis said.
According to Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. Matthew Nathan, Navy Medicine supports and is operating within the current DoD conference guidelines, but is working with DoD officials “to submit requests and get approval on a case-by-case basis for both the hosting of DoD conferences and/or the attending of non-DoD conferences.”
“Navy Medicine supports this policy and is applying strict scrutiny to not just conference travel, but to all travel requirements. However, Navy Medicine is fully attuned to the importance of continuing medical education. There is also a unique mission set within the medical community that requires collaboration in order to foster cooperation and partnership. This is particularly true in the research and development community. Navy Medicine therefore has not issued a moratorium on conference travel,” he told U.S. Medicine in a written statement.
Richard Breen, director of MHS Strategic Communications, also said MHS is addressing the issue and suggested online and local training would be important.
“Obviously, we are working to obtain approval on the MHS Conference because of the great educational opportunities it provides, among those allowing for attendees to earn continuing education credits, which helps them to maintain their medical credentials. The Department of Defense certainly understands the need for credentialing and quality training, and that is why we are moving toward professional development opportunities that would feature online and local training.”