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October 21, 2005: 

The Honorable Trent Lott: 
Committee on Rules and Administration: 
United States Senate: 

The Honorable Gordon H. Smith: 
United States Senate: 

Subject: Official U.S. Representation at Government-Sponsored Public 
Policy Forums: 

The U.S. government annually sponsors thousands of conferences, 
symposiums, seminars, and other policy-related forums that involve 
individuals and organizations from outside the U.S. government. These 
forums present opportunities for U.S. and foreign audiences to discuss 
public policy issues and are designed to advance U.S. government 
interests. For example, some forums are intended to educate 
participants about official U.S. government positions and policies on 
issues of public concern, such as the war in Iraq, development of 
alternative energy sources, human trafficking, and protection of 
endangered species. Other forums serve as venues for soliciting input 
on policy issues from the public and from selected external experts, 
including academics, scientists, journalists, and representatives of 
nongovernmental organizations. 

You requested information on these forums, noting that official U.S. 
representation at the forums is important for ensuring that they 
achieve their objectives. This letter provides information on forums 
sponsored by the Departments of State, Defense, Energy, and Interior 
from 2001 through 2004.[Footnote 1] For the policy-related forums 
sponsored by these four departments, we (1) determined the extent to 
which U.S. government officials participated in the forums, and (2) 
identified the departmental policies and procedures governing 
participation by U.S. officials at these events. 

To meet these objectives, we distributed questionnaires, tailored to 
each department, requesting specific information about the policy 
forums they funded or hosted from 2001 through 2004. We collected 
information on the title, date, location, and purpose of each forum as 
well as an indication of whether a U.S. official participated in the 
event. We did not implement the questionnaire at the Department of 
Energy as this department routinely collects the information we were 
seeking in a central database. We also interviewed key officials 
throughout the departments about their policies and informal practices 
governing policy forums and compared them with actual practices, as 
reported to us through the questionnaires. Because the questionnaires 
we used reflected each department's unique organizational structure, 
mission, and operations, the data are not comparable across 
departments. For increased assurance that the data the departments 
reported to us were reliable, we obtained additional documentation on 
selected forums and conducted independent research using publicly 
available data sources. For each department, we determined that the 
data were sufficiently reliable for assessing the overall extent of 
participation by U.S. officials at policy forums. A more detailed 
description of our scope and methodology is included in Enclosure I. We 
conducted our work between January 2005 and September 2005 in 
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. 


The Departments of State, Defense, Energy, and Interior sponsored a 
wide variety of policy forums from 2001 through 2004 as part of their 
programs and missions within the United States and throughout the 
world. The four departments' data showed that U.S. officials 
participated in virtually all of these events. For example, of the 
approximately 8,800 policy forums the Department of State (State) 
reported sponsoring during this period, about 97 percent were attended 
by U.S. government officials from State or another federal agency; the 
remaining forums did not include a U.S. government official, primarily 
due to personnel and resource constraints. According to the public 
affairs officer at the U.S. embassy in France, for instance, the 
increased demand for speakers to discuss U.S. policies on terrorism had 
been particularly heavy, precluding embassy officials from accompanying 
some guest experts before French audiences. In these cases, the public 
affairs officers determined that the objectives of the forum could be 
met without official U.S. government representation. State public 
diplomacy officials do not believe that the relatively small number of 
events held without official U.S. participation posed an undue risk to 
State's foreign policy goals. The Departments of Defense, Energy, and 
Interior, which sponsored thousands of forums during this period, each 
reported fewer than five instances in which no U.S. official 
participated in policy forums they sponsored. While official 
representation at policy forums does not guarantee that government 
policies and positions were presented, each of the four departments 
reported that U.S. officials were nearly always on hand to speak on 
behalf of the government if it was necessary and appropriate. 

None of the four departments had written policies requiring U.S. 
officials to attend or actively promote U.S. policies and positions at 
government-sponsored forums. However, departmental policies and 
practices were designed to ensure that such forums did not undermine 
the departments' missions. For example, State has rules and operating 
guidance in place that are intended to prevent department-sponsored 
speakers from misrepresenting U.S. policies and positions, such as 
requiring many guest speakers to be vetted by the department's 
International Information Programs office. Also, the Department of 
Defense (DOD) requires its agencies to ensure that all forums co- 
sponsored with nonfederal entities are closely related to DOD's 
missions. Existing policies and procedures at the departments were 
aimed at limiting the costs--particularly travel costs--associated with 
larger forums rather than ensuring a minimum level of U.S. 
participation at all forums. Specifically, three of the four agencies 
required special high-level management review for events involving the 
travel of 25 to 30 or more attendees. 


Conferences, symposiums, seminars, and other policy forums are convened 
and funded under the four departments' many different programs and 
missions. Their management is thus highly diffused across the agencies 
and offices of the departments we reviewed. Of the four departments, 
only the Department of Energy maintains a central database with 
management information on the forums the department sponsors. 

The extent to which the departments sponsor these forums varies. 
Sometimes departments host forums in their entirety, providing the 
venue and hospitality, setting the agenda, inviting the speakers and 
participants, and even funding participants' travel expenses. 
Departments also co-sponsor forums with other organizations, providing 
partial funding or in-kind logistical support. In planning a 
conference, federal travel regulations require agencies to establish 
internal policies to ensure that they minimize administrative, travel, 
and staff time costs. 

In addition, each department in our review sponsors Federal Advisory 
Committees, whose meetings provide a formal and ongoing venue for a 
selected group of external experts to share their views on national 
policy issues with department officials. By law, a designated federal 
official must convene and chair (or attend) all Federal Advisory 
Committee meetings and approve the agenda.[Footnote 2] 

Department of State Policy Forums: 

State sponsored a wide variety of policy forums and federal advisory 
committee meetings, and about 97 percent of the nearly 8,800 forums we 
identified were attended by an official U.S. representative from State 
or another federal agency. Most forums also included a federal official 
on the agenda of the event. State has no written policies requiring 
U.S. officials to attend or actively promote U.S. policies. However, 
according to agency officials we interviewed, operating guidance, 
rules, and informal practices help mitigate the risk that speakers 
might misrepresent U.S. policies and positions. Also, a specific and 
higher-level approval process is prescribed for forums that require 25 
or more people to travel. 

Official U.S. Representation at State Department Forums: 

From 2001 through 2004, State reported sponsoring 8,772 conferences, 
seminars, and other forums designed to allow people and organizations 
from outside the U.S. government to exchange views on foreign affairs 
and other public policy issues. Policy forums constitute a major 
component of State's public diplomacy and public affairs efforts. 
Embassies and other overseas posts frequently sponsor policy forums 
designed to help meet their objectives for furthering U.S. interests 
within the host country. For example, posts sponsor U.S. government 
officials, private U.S. citizens such as academics and commentators, 
and others to participate in conferences and other forums. Sponsored 
guests make speeches and share their expertise and opinions about 
current events and policy issues. For example, the U.S. embassy in 
Algeria sponsored a senior judge from the U.S. Court of Appeals 9th 
Circuit to speak on judicial reform; the embassy in Brazil sponsored a 
U.S. journalist and commentator to speak on the U.S. elections in 2004; 
and the embassy in Guatemala hosted an International Conference on Drug 
Abuse Prevention attended by seven U.S. drug experts. The Bureau of 
Public Affairs also sponsors and arranges forums within the United 
States at which State officials speak to local audiences on U.S. 
foreign policies concerning certain countries or geographic regions of 
the world, and on specific topics such as arms control, 
counterterrorism, and demining. 

In addition, State sponsors many forums, primarily in Washington, to 
seek input from nongovernmental experts when formulating policies, 
positions, and approaches. For example, State's Bureau of Intelligence 
and Research frequently convenes experts to provide ambassadors, State 
officials, and other government officials with a variety of viewpoints 
on a certain issue or country situation. Such forums have included a 
conference on organized crime in Latin America, a seminar on the 
Israeli elections and coalition prospects, and a workshop on 
international oceanographic research. In addition, at meetings of 
State's 21 Federal Advisory Committees, outside experts provide input 
to the department on a host of foreign policy and foreign affairs 
management issues, such an international economic policy, overseas 
schools, and cultural diplomacy. Also, the Secretary's Open Forum 
provides a venue for individuals from outside the department or the 
U.S. government to make presentations on foreign policy topics, 
primarily to State Department staff. The Open Forum was established in 
1967 during U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict to strengthen the 
American foreign policy process by encouraging creative thinking on 
vital policy issues, including presentations of differing visions and 
viewpoints. Both critics and supporters of U.S. policy have made 
speeches through this forum. 

U.S. government officials participated in virtually all State-sponsored 
policy forums. According to data provided by the State Department, 
State and other federal officials attended about 97 percent of these 
events and were thus on hand to discuss official U.S. policies and 
positions if necessary and appropriate. Furthermore, State reported 
that a U.S. official was included formally on the agenda as a speaker, 
participant, or chair for about 72 percent of all the policy forums we 

According to the data provided by State, attendance by State officials 
differed somewhat depending on whether the forum was sponsored by a 
Washington-based office or by embassy or other overseas post. For all 
but two of the 3,028 policy forums sponsored by a Washington-based 
office, at least one State or other U.S. government official attended 
the event. This includes all 420 meetings of State's Federal Advisory 
Committees. Of the 5,744 forums sponsored by the overseas posts and 
their corresponding geographic bureau[Footnote 3]s from 2001 through 
2004, about 95 percent were attended by a State official or other U.S. 
government official with authority to speak on behalf of the U.S. 

State officials we spoke to at posts overseas cited various reasons for 
not including U.S. official participation in about 5 percent of the 
forums they sponsored. Public affairs officers at several posts told us 
that their posts did not always have enough foreign service officers, 
travel funds, or other resources necessary to attend the events. For 
example, the public affairs officer in France indicated that in the 
wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the embassy 
experienced a surge in its speaker programs, leaving it shorthanded in 
trying to attend all of its sponsored events. As a result, in some 
instances the embassy sponsored guest speakers to participate in 
various policy forums throughout the country without a foreign service 
officer in attendance. The press officer in Kazakhstan noted that in 
many cases forums were held in regional cities outside the capital, 
where travel was difficult and usually required 2 to 3 days. Thus, the 
extended absence of a foreign service officer from the embassy would 
adversely impact a small post's operations. 

Some State officials emphasized that, depending on a forum's purpose, 
official U.S. positions and policies may not always be explicitly 
presented or discussed, even if U.S. officials participated. One public 
affairs officer explained that embassy representatives may want to 
maintain a low profile to avoid the appearance of U.S. influence on the 
discussion. This might be true, for example, if the event's purpose was 
to highlight the importance of free speech. Similarly, a Bureau of 
Intelligence and Research official indicated that the Bureau's events 
are more productive in gathering information when participating U.S. 
officials encourage diverse viewpoints, rather than debating or 
challenging viewpoints if they conflict with official U.S. positions. 
At events attended primarily by State officials, such as the 
Secretary's Open Forum events, active promotion of U.S. policies is 
usually unnecessary, according to officials responsible for arranging 
these events. Attendees are assumed to be well versed in U.S. foreign 
policy by virtue of their positions within the Department. 

Policies and Practices Governing Participation by U.S. Officials in 
State Department Policy Forums: 

We found no written policies that require State officials to attend or 
actively promote U.S. policy and positions at department-sponsored 
policy forums. According to senior officials throughout State, the 
forums are key instruments in advancing U.S. foreign policy, both 
domestically and overseas. As such, these officials indicated that it 
is important that these events be managed effectively by State 
officials. Although State does not have written policies stating how 
this management is to be carried out, other existing guidance and 
practices we observed are designed to ensure that the events meet the 
department's overall mission and objectives. 

State's written policies governing the sponsorship of policy forums are 
aimed at controlling the cost of conferences and do not require the 
attendance of a minimum number of U.S. officials. As of July 2004, 
State requires conferences, workshops, and meetings that require the 
travel of 25 or more persons to be specifically approved by the Under 
Secretary of Management. The sponsoring office must justify the event, 
specifying the benefits to the department, anticipated outcomes, cost, 
timing, and security considerations. According to the officials 
responsible for managing this approval process, the Under Secretary for 
Management would usually not comment on the content of the conference, 
the agenda, or the choice of speakers or official attendees, as these 
decisions are delegated to Assistant Secretaries for the bureaus and 
offices arranging the event. 

While State does not have a written policy mandating the promotion of 
U.S. policy at policy forums, State directives are designed to help 
ensure that department officials do not contradict official U.S. 
policies and positions at department-sponsored policy forums. State's 
Foreign Affairs Manual includes procedures requiring employees' public 
comments and writings to be pre-cleared by appropriate State officials. 
Although extemporaneous remarks made at conferences do not require 
formal pre-clearance according to the Manual, department officials are 
expected not to make remarks that are inconsistent with official U.S. 
policy. One senior State official we spoke to indicated that the 
department selects its representatives for international conferences 
carefully to help ensure that these directives are followed. 

With regard to State-sponsored guest speakers overseas, departmental 
practices are designed to help ensure that these speakers do not 
misrepresent U.S. policies and undermine public diplomacy and public 
affairs objectives. According to an official from the International 
Information Programs Office, it is common practice for that office to 
research the writings and public statements of speaker candidates to 
verify that they hold views generally "sympathetic" to official U.S. 
policy. In addition, State's training materials for public affairs 
officers state that "[w]hen a speaker departs from [U.S. government] 
policy, he or she should, without question, acknowledge this divergence 
to the audience. If such a distinction is not made in the course of a 
speaker's presentation, the [public affairs officer] should clarify 
this point to the audience." Senior public diplomacy officers indicated 
that this practice is particularly important when sensitive foreign 
policy topics are discussed. 

State officials agreed that not sending a foreign service officer to a 
policy forum may increase the risk that U.S. policies will be 
misrepresented. However, the public diplomacy officers at State's 
geographic bureaus indicated that this risk was acceptable to them, 
given the infrequency with which this occurs, the limited staffing and 
resources at overseas posts to attend all events, and the confidence 
they have in the speakers they invite. 

Several public affairs officers at overseas posts stated that there are 
other means at their disposal--short of participating in events with 
guest speakers--for mitigating the risk that the speakers will 
undermine U.S. public diplomacy objectives. Officials at some posts 
indicated that speakers are often selected or recommended by the posts 
based on a proven track record of effective presentations that are well 
received and that support the posts' objectives. Also, when speakers 
are scheduled to participate in a series of forums, a foreign service 
officer or other post staff member may attend an initial speech to 
ascertain the nature of the speaker's future remarks. Furthermore, 
public affairs officers said that the ambassador and other foreign 
service officers may brief the speaker upon arrival in-country on the 
posts' objectives, priorities, and sensitive subjects. Finally, several 
public affairs officers we consulted indicated that when they could not 
send a foreign service officer to accompany a guest speaker, they would 
frequently send a locally employed foreign national staff member to 
observe the event and report on it to embassy and departmental 

Department of Defense Policy Forums: 

Almost all of the more than 2,500 DOD-sponsored forums we identified 
involved the direct participation of U.S. government officials. The 57 
DOD organizations we surveyed reported three forums that did not 
include a federal official on the agenda. DOD has a directive stating 
that forums co-sponsored with nonfederal entities should be relevant to 
agency missions, as well as additional defense agency directives that 
say agencies should manage events appropriately. However, these 
directives do not require DOD officials to be included on conference 
agendas or to actively promote U.S. policies and positions. 

Official U.S. Representation at DOD Forums: 

DOD sponsors a range of conferences, symposiums, and other forums 
designed to share ideas with people and organizations outside the U.S. 
government. A number of DOD officials stated that the forums the 
department sponsors do not usually involve a direct debate of U.S. 
government policy, but are sessions held to discuss the implementation 
of U.S. policies. From calendar year 2001 through 2004, DOD reported 
sponsoring over 2,500 events addressing a range of environmental, 
economic, medical, political, technological, and security-related 
issues. Some forums--such as the Defense Environmental Forum, the 
Defense Procurement Conference, and the Navy Occupational Health and 
Preventive Medicine Conference--addressed specific DOD operational 
policies and issues. Other forums--such as the South Asia Stability 
Seminar and the International Rivals Conference--addressed broader 
international security issues. DOD also sponsored meetings of 71 
Federal Advisory Committees to obtain input from external experts on a 
variety of defense-related subjects, such as military compensation and 
nuclear weapons surety. 

In response to our survey, 57 DOD organizations reported that U.S. 
government officials participated in virtually all of the 1,349 forums 
that they sponsored from 2001 through 2004. (See encl. II for a list of 
the DOD organizations we surveyed.) Three forums (less than 0.5 
percent) did not include a federal government official on the agenda as 
a chair, moderator, speaker, or panelist. Two of these three forums 
were related to U.S. policy. The first forum was a workshop titled 
"U.S. Assessments of the Soviet and Post-Soviet Russian Economy: 
Lessons Learned and Not Learned." The second event was a workshop 
titled "The Middle East Youth Culture Project." Both events were the 
final presentations of researchers who were under contract with a 
sponsoring DOD organization. According to a DOD official, these 
workshops were designed to generate input for the Secretary of 
Defense's long-term planning efforts. According to officials we 
interviewed, DOD officials were not on the agenda when these events 
took place because DOD officials did not conduct the research and 
attended only to hear the results. The only other forum DOD reported 
that did not have a U.S. government representative on the agenda was a 
retirement training seminar for government employees, which did not 
involve a discussion of U.S. government policy. In addition to the 
forums the DOD organizations we surveyed reported to us, the department 
hosted 1,159 meetings of its Federal Advisory Committees in this time 
period, which by law requires U.S. official participation.[Footnote 4] 

Policies and Practices Governing Participation by U.S. Officials in DOD 

None of the DOD organizations we surveyed reported any written 
requirements for including U.S. officials on the agenda of government- 
sponsored forums or promoting U.S. policies and positions at these 
events. We did, however, identify a DOD regulation[Footnote 5] that 
requires DOD organizations co-sponsoring a conference with non-federal 
entities to ensure that the forum is relevant to the mission of the 
sponsoring DOD organization. Other defense agency directives we 
identified address such issues as how information should be released to 
the public and an organization's fiscal responsibility for organizing 
or attending conferences. However, none of these directives included 
requirements for agenda content or prior approval of planned 

In addition to the written directives, several DOD organizations we 
surveyed indicated that they have practices in place whereby high-level 
management officials review and approve conference agendas. For 
example, one DOD organization indicated that agendas are approved by 
the office's director when event funding is required. Another DOD 
office reported that its forums are subject to a legal review and a 
review by a six-member committee that oversees conference planning and 
agenda development. An Army organization stated that all event plans 
and agendas are reviewed and approved by a senior official. 

Department of Energy Policy Forums: 

The Department of Energy (DOE) sponsors an array of forums that 
addressed many scientific, technical, and public policy topics. Of the 
nearly 1,300 forums we identified, three did not include a DOE or other 
federal official and directly addressed policy issues. DOE has written 
policies and procedures governing its sponsorship of conferences, 
particularly those involving the travel of 30 or more department 
officials. However, none of the directives relating to department- 
sponsored forums require attendance by DOE officials or the promotion 
of U.S. policies and positions. 

Official U.S. Representation at DOE Policy Forums: 

Based on data compiled in DOE's conference management database and 
other public sources, DOE sponsored nearly 1,300 forums (including 
conferences, symposiums, workshops, meetings, and retreats) during 
fiscal years 2001 through 2004.[Footnote 6] Many of these forums 
addressed highly scientific and technical issues, such as the High 
Efficiency Thermoelectric Workshop and the Carbon Sequestration 
Conference. Some forums addressed the policy implications of energy 
technologies. Other forums explored international energy issues, such 
as the conferences on International Partnership for the Hydrogen 
Economy and on U.S.-Norwegian Bilateral Cooperation in Carbon 
Sequestration, Hydrogen, and New Energy Technologies. In addition, DOE 
sponsored 23 Federal Advisory Committees, which held 491 meetings in 
this period on a range of topics, including fusion energy and 

The U.S. government was officially represented at almost all the DOE- 
sponsored forums we identified. According to information we obtained 
from DOE and other public sources, four of the forums we identified 
were not attended by at least one U.S. government official. Three of 
the four forums were workshops sponsored by the Lawrence Livermore 
National Laboratory's Center for Global Security Research.[Footnote 7] 
Attendance at all three forums--two "Living with Risk" workshops and an 
"Agro-Terrorism: What Is the Threat?" workshop--was restricted to 
invited guests. Although Lawrence Livermore employees attended the 
workshops, no DOE or other federal agency official was identified on 
the agenda as a speaker or participant during the regular sessions. (A 
Department of Agriculture official did participate as a dinner speaker 
at the Agro-Terrorism workshop.) The Center sponsored the two "Living 
with Risk" workshops to develop a methodology for evaluating risk; the 
findings of the workshops are expected to be published in early 2006. 
Center officials stated that they plan to hold a conference to present 
the findings to decision makers, including DOE officials, following 
publication. The remaining forum with no official U.S. representation 
was not focused on policy issues; it was a meeting between DOE 
contractor employees and industry representatives to discuss technical 
issues related to the development of advanced vehicle technology. 

Policies and Practices Governing Participation by U.S. Officials in DOE 

DOE policies and procedures do not require U.S. officials to be 
included on the agenda or to actively promote U.S. policies and 
positions at government-sponsored forums. However, a DOE order on 
conference management establishes requirements to minimize costs and 
attendance at conferences sponsored by DOE or its contractors. Under 
this order, each conference must be approved in advance by the head or 
Principal Deputy within the sponsoring organization or by a higher- 
level manager if the forum involves travel by 30 or more DOE or 
contractor employees. The order also requires that DOE units establish 
points of contact and submit a list of all sponsored conferences held 
in the prior calendar year to the DOE Executive Secretariat for 
inclusion in its conference management database. 

Department of the Interior Policy Forums: 

U.S. officials participated in virtually all of the more than 1,200 
policy forums we identified that were sponsored by the nine bureaus and 
offices of the Department of Interior. Interior reported only four 
policy forums where it could not document the involvement of a federal 
official. Departmental policies and procedures relating to the 
sponsorship of forums do not address U.S. official representation or 
the promotion of U.S. policies and positions. However, if more than 30 
employees are expected to travel to attend the forum, departmental 
policy requires higher-level management scrutiny. 

Official U.S. Representation at Interior Policy Forums: 

Interior's nine bureaus and offices reported sponsoring more than 1,200 
policy forums relating to their respective missions. For example, the 
Fish and Wildlife Service sponsored such conferences as the Annual 
North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, the Wildlife 
Society's Annual Meeting, and the Wildlife Habitat Council Annual 
Symposium. Forums sponsored by the Minerals Management Service 
addressed issues such as the management of offshore oil drilling, 
transport, equipment, and facilities. The Office of Surface Mining 
sponsored technical forums on the use and disposal of coal combustion 
by-products, bat conservation in coal mines, and reclamation and 
reforestation of mined land. Interior also sponsored meetings of 108 
Federal Advisory Committees to discuss issues such as invasive species 
control and the protection of Native American graves. 

Interior reported that four of the forums we identified for 2001 
through 2004 did not involve participation by a U.S. government 
official. These included a U.S. Geological Survey workshop of Gulf 
Coast state geological surveys. According to the U.S. Geological 
Survey, this was a workshop for officials from different states to 
develop a framework for cooperative studies for subsequent discussion 
with U.S. Geological Survey officials. In addition, the National Park 
Service cosponsored a conference of the Preservation Alliances of West 
Virginia, but Interior officials did not attend because travel funds 
were not available. The conference discussed economic development 
prospects for restoring downtown commerce in Lewisburg, West Virginia. 
In addition, National Park Service officials had not documented, and 
thus could not verify, whether federal officials had attended two other 
conferences it sponsored. A U.S. official was included formally on the 
agenda as a speaker, participant, or chair for about 94 percent of the 
policy forums Interior reported to us. Participation by an Interior 
official was required by law for all 1,029 of the Federal Advisory 
Committee meetings the department sponsored from 2001 through 
2004.[Footnote 8] 

In addition to these forums, officials from Interior and its bureaus 
participated in more than a thousand other public meetings, for which 
we did not gather specific information, which were held throughout the 
United States from 2001 through 2004. These public meetings included 
permit reviews, regulatory proceedings relating to the National 
Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, and the 
National Park Service's management planning and partnership meetings. 
Many of these public meetings were held with local residents and other 
members of the public to obtain their views or explain the department's 
policies and actions regarding public land use. The active involvement 
of Interior officials is required for official public meetings or 
public hearings held as part of the regulatory or policy actions of the 
department, according to senior Interior officials. 

Policies and Practices Governing Participation by U.S. Officials in 
Interior Forums: 

Interior does not have any written policies relating to the attendance 
by U.S. officials or the promotion of U.S. policies and positions at 
department-sponsored policy forums. However, departmental regulations 
establish a formal approval process for funding conferences and other 
forums and specify that the Program Assistant Secretary or the Deputy 
Assistant Secretary must approve forums to be attended by 30 or more 
federal government employees in travel status. 

Some of Interior's bureaus reported other policies and practices to 
help ensure that the forums they sponsor support the department's 
missions. For example, according to the National Park Service, informal 
criteria require that a sponsored forum be mission-related, cost 
effective, and not perceived by the public as inappropriate or 
wasteful. The Bureau of Reclamation's recently issued directives and 
standards state that the conference's executive sponsor is responsible 
for all content and logistics and require the Director of the Office of 
Program and Policy Services to maintain an inventory of conferences and 
prepare a summary of conferences held in the past year. 

Agency Comments: 

We provided a draft of this letter to the Departments of State, 
Defense, Energy, and Interior for their comment. They provided 
technical corrections, which we incorporated into the letter as 
appropriate, but they had no further comments. 

We are sending copies of this letter to the Secretaries of State, 
Defense, Energy, and Interior. In addition, the letter will be 
available at no charge on the GAO Web site at If 
you have any questions regarding this letter, please contact Joseph 
Christoff at (202) 512-8979 or Key contributors to 
this report are listed in Enclosure III. 

Signed by: 

Joseph A. Christoff: 
Director, International Affairs and Trade: 

Derek B. Stewart: 
Director, Defense Capabilities and Management: 

Gene Aloise: 
Director, Natural Resources and Environment: 


Enclosure I: Scope and Methodology: 

To identify policy-related forums sponsored by these four departments 
and determine the extent to which U.S. government officials 
participated, we undertook a data collection approach specific to each 
department, given their differences in organization, mission, and 

* To obtain data on the Department of State (State), we designed a 
questionnaire to collect information on the policy forums sponsored by 
the 30 bureaus and offices involved primarily in foreign policy issues. 
We consulted with State officials familiar with the department's 
organizational structure and missions, in particular its public 
diplomacy and public affairs missions. Our questionnaire addressed 
events hosted or funded by the departments that involved an open 
discussion of policy issues with participants from outside the U.S. 
government. We specifically excluded many routine contacts between 
departmental officials and external audiences, such as speeches, public 
hearings, and diplomatic contacts. In February 2005, we pre-tested the 
questionnaire at selected offices and then fully distributed it, with 
minor revisions, throughout the department in March 2005. To obtain 
information on overseas events, the department queried all embassies 
and overseas posts using our questionnaire and reported the information 
to us. We received responses to our questionnaire from 26 bureaus. We 
relied on the department to report specific information about each 
forum, including the purpose of the event, the nature of government 
sponsorship, and attendance by U.S. officials. We determined that, 
given the large number of policy forums sponsored throughout the time 
period under review and the highly decentralized recordkeeping for many 
of these forums, collection and review of the agendas from all of these 
forums would not be feasible. Instead, we obtained the name and contact 
information for one official associated with each forum. We analyzed 
the questionnaire results to obtain a listing of events at which no 
U.S. official participated and obtained additional information on these 
events, including an agenda when possible, from the designated contact. 
We also interviewed, in oral and in written form, officials 
knowledgeable with these events to obtain further descriptions or 
clarifications, as needed. 

* To obtain data on the Department of Defense (DOD), we revised the 
questionnaire that had been distributed at State and pre-tested it at 
selected DOD organizations in March and April 2005. Through our pre- 
testing, we determined that DOD officials consistently found our use of 
the term "policy forum" and our instruction to report information about 
sponsored events that "discussed or debated U.S. government policies" 
as not applicable to their operations. They thus provided no 
information in response to the questionnaire. Therefore, we revised our 
reporting criteria by eliminating the "policy forum" and the "policy 
debate" requirement, thereby widening the scope of forums DOD officials 
could report on the questionnaire. We made those revisions to the 
questionnaire before distributing it to 57 selected DOD organizations 
in May 2005. Given DOD's size, we determined that it would not be 
feasible to distribute the questionnaire, particularly with its widened 
scope, to all organizations within the department. Based on our 
professional judgment, we identified a non-probability sample of 57 DOD 
organizations that we believed would be more likely to sponsor events 
that could be interpreted as policy related, and we distributed the 
questionnaire only to those organizations. We also limited distribution 
of the questionnaire to organizations headed by officials at the 
Assistant Secretary level or above because we had determined in pre- 
testing that operational field units and other similarly decentralized 
DOD organizations were unlikely to sponsor events where policy was 
debated. (See encl. II for a listing of the DOD organizations we 
surveyed for this review.) Additionally, we eliminated routine and 
professional training of U.S. agency and military personnel. National 
Defense University courses were specifically excluded due to this 
organization's focus on academic freedom and the practice of non- 
attribution to encourage multiple viewpoints and not to discourage 
controversy. We analyzed the information provided on the questionnaires 
and obtained additional information on those events that DOD reported 
as unattended by a U.S. government official. 

* The Department of Energy (DOE) maintains a centralized database of 
conferences and other forums that contained the data we needed to meet 
our objectives. We therefore did not use a questionnaire. In addition 
to clearly policy-related forums, this database contained information 
on internal meetings involving only DOE and DOE contractor personnel, 
highly technical conferences, and events targeted to the DOE 
laboratories' client community to discuss, for example, small business 
or technology transfer opportunities. For those DOE-sponsored forums 
that appeared to be policy related and for which the database showed 
that no DOE official attended, we obtained an agenda and used a 
questionnaire to get supplementary information. 

* To obtain data on the Department of the Interior (Interior), we 
revised the questionnaire previously distributed at State and pre-
tested it with all nine Interior bureaus in March and April 2005. Based 
on our pre-testing, we determined that it would not be feasible to 
collect specific information on the wide range of hearings and public 
meetings the department sponsors in its regulatory capacity because 
records generally are kept at local offices with no centralized 
reporting. We therefore excluded this category of policy forum from our 
review and distributed our questionnaire to all bureaus in June 2005. 
We analyzed the results of the questionnaire and obtained additional 
information on those events reported as unattended by a U.S. government 

For all four departments, we also obtained information on Federal 
Advisory Committee meetings from the General Services Administration's 
online database pertaining to these events, which we determined was 
reliable for the purposes of our review. Since participation by federal 
officials is required by law for these meetings, we did not obtain 
documentation from the departments about U.S. representation at each of 
these events.[Footnote 9] 

For increased assurance that the data the departments reported to us 
were sufficiently reliable, we conducted independent research using 
Internet resources, including the Washington Daybook, published by 
Federal Information and News Dispatch, Inc., which reports publicly 
available information on government-sponsored policy forums and other 
events held in the Washington, D.C., area. We requested additional 
information on those forums we identified that the departments had not 
reported to us. Because of the different methodological approaches we 
used at the four departments, data on policy forums were not 
necessarily comparable among the departments. Furthermore, given the 
decentralized and sometimes informal nature of recordkeeping on policy 
forums, the completeness of the information we obtained from some 
offices was limited. Agencies reported potential gaps in the data and, 
thus, could not guarantee that all government-sponsored forums were 
captured in the data they reported. In particular, our validation of 
the DOE database suggested that some underreporting may have occurred 
for this department. However, in our analysis of the data we collected 
we found a very high degree of consistency regarding the participation 
by U.S. officials at the government-sponsored forums reported. This 
analysis suggested that the potential underreporting at DOE and the 
other departments would not materially affect our findings on official 
attendance at the conferences. Therefore, we judged that for the 
purpose of determining the overall extent of participation by U.S. 
government officials in these events, the information we obtained from 
all four departments was sufficiently reliable. 

To identify the departmental policies governing participation by U.S. 
government officials at these events, we interviewed officials 
throughout the four departments in our review. We obtained 
descriptions, in either written or oral form, from a wide variety of 
officials responsible for organizing policy forums, of the formal 
policies and procedures and the informal practices that they typically 
employ. We analyzed the questionnaire responses to identify those 
forums that did not comply with departmental policies or practices 
regarding participation by U.S. officials. We found this to be the case 
only with some State-sponsored forums held at overseas posts without 
official attendance by a State official. We then conducted further 
interviews with State officials at the geographic bureaus and posts 
that sponsored those forums to identify and understand variance with 
stated policy or common practice. We did not test departments' 
compliance with policies relating to other aspects of managing forums, 
such as requirements for obtaining special approval for forums 
involving the travel of 25 people or more. 

We conducted our work between January 2005 and September 2005 in 
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. 

Enclosure II: 

DOD Offices and Agencies Contacted: 

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics: 
* Director, Defense Research and Engineering; 
* Director, Acquisition Resource and Analysis; 
* Director, Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization; 
* Director, Defense Systems; 
* Director, Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy; 
* Director, International Cooperation; 
* Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (International Technology 
* Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Laboratories and Basic Sciences); 
* Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Logistics Materiel Readiness); 
* Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Nuclear, Chemical, and 
Biological Defense Programs); 
* Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Advanced Systems and Concepts); 
* Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Industrial Policy); 
* Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and Environment); 
* Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Science and Technology). 

Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness): 
* Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and 
* Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs); 
* Assistant Secretary of Defense (Reserve Affairs); 
* Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Readiness); 
* Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Program Integration). 

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy: 
* Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs); 
* Assistant Secretary of Defense (Homeland Defense); 
* Assistant Secretary of Defense (Special Operations and Low-Intensity 
* Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Policy). 

Under Secretary of Defense Intelligence; 

Assistant Secretary of Defense (Network and Information Integration); 

Assistant Secretary of Defense (Legislative Affairs); 

Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs); 

Director, Force Transformation; 

Director, Net Assessment; 

Defense Agencies: 
* Defense Security Cooperation Agency; 
* Defense Threat Reduction Agency; 
* Defense Logistics Agency; 
* Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. 

DOD Field Activities: 
* Office of Economic Adjustment; 
* TRICARE Management Activity. 

Office of the Secretary of the Army: 
* Chief of Public Affairs; 
* Deputy Under Secretary of the Army; 
* Chief of Staff, Army; 
* Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management; 
* Assistant Secretary of the Army (Installations and Environment); 
* Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics, and 
* Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works); 
* Assistant Secretary of the Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs); 
* Chief, Army Reserve; 
* Chief, National Guard Bureau. 

Secretary of the Air Force: 
* Office of Public Affairs; 
* Under Secretary of the Air Force; 
* Office of the Assistant Secretary (Acquisition); 
* Deputy Under Secretary (International Affairs); 
* Office of the Assistant Secretary (Manpower and Reserve Affairs); 
* Office of the Assistant Secretary (Installations, Environment, and 

Office of the Secretary of the Navy: 
* Under Secretary of the Navy; 
* Chief of Naval Operations; 
* Chief of Information; 
* Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Installations and Environment); 
* Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs); 
* Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and 

Enclosure III: GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

GAO Contact: Joseph Christoff, (202) 512-8979: 

Acknowledgments: Key contributors to this correspondence include 
Rebecca Beale, Richard Boudreau, Renee Brown, Lynn Cothern, Richard 
Cheston, Martin De Alteriis, Lynn Johnson, Stephen Lord, Grace Lui, 
James Michels, David Moser, Donald Pless, and Clifton Spruill. 



[1] Unless otherwise noted, years cited in this report refer to 
calendar years. 

[2] 5 U.S.C. app. 2 10. 

[3] This includes the bureaus for African Affairs, East Asian and 
Pacific Affairs, European and Eurasian Affairs, Near Eastern Affairs, 
Western Hemispheric Affairs, and South Asian Affairs. 

[4] 5 U.S.C. app. 2 10. 

[5] Joint Ethics Regulation, DOD 5500.7-R, 3.206(b). 

[6] DOE's conference management database collects data on DOE-sponsored 
conferences on a fiscal year basis. 

[7] The University of California operates Lawrence Livermore National 
Laboratory under contract with DOE. Laboratory personnel are University 
of California employees. The Center for Global Security Research was 
formed in 1996 to study ways that technology can improve national 
security by bringing technology and policy experts together. 

[8] 5 U.S.C. app. 2 10. 

[9] 5 U.S.C. App. 2 10.