Today the Coast Guard posted a notice in the Federal Register (78 FR 19277-19278) announcing that the two day meeting of the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee (NMSAC) previously scheduled for next week in Washington, DC has now been changed to a half-day electronic meeting on April 2nd, 2013. The notice cites ‘budgetary constraints’ (read Sequestration) as the reason for the change.
While not specifically mentioned as a change, the description of the agenda in the current notice is slightly different than the previous agenda. The new agenda deletes the presentation and discussion on Maritime Domain Awareness and Information Sharing and replaces it with a discussion of the recent TWIC Reader NPRM. Since the NPRM was published after the previous notice was published this addition certainly makes sense.
Public participation is still being solicited. There are provisions for a public comment period at the end of the conference and written comments will still be accepted through today (the same cut-off date as was posted in the original notice). People wishing to participate via teleconference dial 866-810-4853, the pass code to join is 9760138#. The web conference will be via the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) at https://connect.hsin.gov/r11254182 and follow the online instructions to register for this meeting.
I understand that the Sequester is forcing the federal government to cut spending and certainly travel related spending for conferences like would seem to be an obvious way of cutting spending without cutting services. Having said that, making a change like this six days before the scheduled meeting is a blatant slap in the face to the non-federal employee participants. Last minute cancelations of travel plans are disruptive, to say the least, and expensive in that many transportation arrangements do not allow for full refunds upon cancellation.
Having said that, I do commend the Coast Guard for carrying on the conference in an electronic format. This is a cost effective way of sharing the information, both for the government and the private sector attendees. Of course they probably would not have been able to set this up on short notice if they hadn’t already planned on providing for the electronic attendance for the meeting.
I am concerned, however, that they are shortening the meeting from 9-hours (over two days) to just 3-hours. I understand that the electronic format provides some time savings as they don’t have to provide for extended breaks to allow personnel to find and use the utilities, but that doesn’t save 6-hours. The only way to remove that much time will be to cut short the discussions of the important topics to be considered at the meeting, and that is not a good thing.