Similar to rules governing food and beverage costs, federal agencies have considerable discretion in how much they choose to spend on audio and visual equipment and services at government-sponsored conferences. Components and event planners spent $762,897 on audio-visual equipment and services for the 10 conferences we examined, making audio-visuals the third largest category of conference expenditures.
Audio-visual equipment includes microphones, projectors, screens, computers, lights, stages, and sound systems. This chapter reviews the nearly $300,000 cost associated with providing audio-visual equipment and technical services for three conferences, as shown in Table 7-1.57
AUDIO-VISUAL COSTS BY CONFERENCE
|Description|| PSN National
| OVC National
| FBI ITEC
|Labor and Other Costs|
|Other Costs or Offsets||12,758||11,250||(3,466) *|
|Number of Registrants||1,330||787||306|
|Source: OIG analysis of conference financial records|
* The FBI ITEC Conference received a discount averaging 30 percent of the
audio-visual cost, which was applied to certain equipment and labor costs.
BJA held the 2006 PSN National Conference in Denver, Colorado, in May 2006 and issued a contract task order to an event planner to provide planning and logistical support. In turn, the event planner hired an audio-visual firm (PSN subcontractor) to provide equipment and technical assistance during the conference. The total cost of audio-visual support totaled $143,469 for the PSN National Conference.
OVC held its National Symposium for federal, tribal, and military criminal justice officials at the Atlanta Hilton in March 2005. Like PSN, OVC issued a contract task order to an event planner for planning and logistical support. As part of the contract, the event planner engaged the services of an audio-visual firm (OVC subcontractor) to provide equipment and technical assistance. The total cost of audio-visual support for the OVC National Symposium totaled $148,738.
The FBI’s ITOD sponsored its 2006 ITEC conference at the Hyatt Regency in San Antonio, Texas. Unlike BJA or OVC, the FBI did not use a third-party event planner for the ITEC conference. Instead, the FBI paid the venue’s in-house audio-visual firm to provide audio-visual equipment or technical assistance for the conference. Because the FBI used the services of the in-house audio-visual firm, it received a discount of $3,466 or nearly 30 percent on the total cost of the equipment and services provided.
Using conference planning records, agendas, specifications, and audio-visual invoices from each event’s sponsoring component and event planner, we compared the type and amount of audio-visual equipment and support obtained for each of the three conferences incurred audio-visual costs associated with conducting plenary sessions attended by all conference attendees, several breakout sessions, and labor and travel costs for audio-visual firm employees.
The plenary sessions for each conference were held in large rooms and used audio-visual equipment to allow each attendee to hear and see presentations and speeches. Breakout sessions were held in separate rooms at each venue and required separate audio-visual equipment and technical support. The following sections review the audio-visual costs incurred for the plenary and breakout sessions of the three conferences we examined in detail.
PSN National Conference
PSN spent $38,977 to rent audio-visual equipment for the three plenary sessions held in the main ballroom of the Denver Convention Center. Each session was attended by over 1,200 people. The PSN subcontractor provided a large-venue audio-visual system that included 14 microphones, 5 Digital Light Processing ® projectors and accompanying screens, a 42-inch flat-screen monitor, a complete lighting package, 9 smaller monitors, and stages with black drapery backgrounds. As part of its agreement with the event planner, the PSN subcontractor also filmed each plenary session.
Figure 7-A shows that the plenary session stage used three large screens to project and magnify a video image of the speakers. Two rectangular screens were placed on the far left and right side of the stage. A third screen was placed in the center, and two images were projected on either side. Depending on the size, projector, and drapery, rental of each screen cost between $2,700 to $2,900 for the event.
MOCK-UP OF PSN NATIONAL CONFERENCE
PLENARY SESSION STAGE
|Source: PSN event planner|
Considering the dimensions of the 1,300-person ballroom, the event planner told us that it was standard to have screens at each end and one in the center. Figure 7-B is a diagram, provided by the event planner, showing the stage and the seating layout of the plenary session.
STAGE AND SEATING LAYOUT FOR PSN NATIONAL
CONFERENCE PLENARY SESSIONS
|Source: PSN event planner|
As shown above, 10 attendees were seated at each of the 130 tables. According to the event planner, the number of attendees, the seating configuration, and the dimensions of the ballroom required the use of three screens during the plenary session.
The PSN National Conference included a total of 46 breakout sessions during the 4-day conference. As shown in Table 7-2, each of the breakout session rooms used a projector, stand, screen, a laptop, four microphones, a sound mixer, a laser-pointer, and a remote control. The daily rate for the audio-visual equipment in each breakout session room was $605, for a total cost of $27,910 for the conference.58
PSN BREAKOUT SESSION AUDIO-VISUAL COSTS
|Computer screen projectors||46||200||9,200|
|Wired Microphone (2 at each session)||92||10||920|
|Wireless Microphone (2 at each session)||92||60||5,520|
|6 Channel Microphone Mixers||46||20||920|
|Portable Projection Stands||46||8||368|
|Wireless Remote Controls||46||45||2,070|
|TOTAL FOR BREAKOUT SESSION EQUIPMENT||$27,910|
|Source: Audio-visual subcontractor data and OIG analysis|
Wireless microphones cost $50 more to rent per day than wired microphones. We asked the event planner the reason for incurring an additional $4,600 to rent 92 wireless microphones. The event planner told us that the audiovisual package for each room needed to be flexible to accommodate the needs of each speaker. The ability to move about the room freely was important to some presenters and a wired microphone would not be of assistance in these cases.
The PSN subcontractor also outfitted audio-visual and computer equipment for seven rooms used by conference administrators and staff, at a cost of $3,935. These spaces also contained backup equipment that could be used if equipment failed during a breakout or plenary session.
OVC National Symposium
The OVC spent $37,280 to rent audio-visual equipment for two plenary sessions and one working dinner for its nearly 800 attendees. The OVC event planner provided a large-venue audio-visual system similar to the one used by PSN that included 14 microphones, 4 projectors and accompanying screens, 5 mid-sized flat-screen monitors, a complete lighting package, and stages with black drapery backgrounds. As part of its agreement with the event planner, the OVC subcontractor also filmed each plenary session.
Figure 7-C shows the main stage as it appeared before OVC National Symposium’s dinner session.
DINNER AND STAGE AT THE OVC NATIONAL SYMPOSIUM
|Source: OVC event planner|
The OVC spent $45,594 to provide audio-visual equipment for 201 separate breakout session meetings held in 90 rooms. For these 90 breakout rooms, the OVC subcontractor provided a package of audiovisual equipment that included computer projectors, laptop computers, flipcharts, wired and wireless microphones, and other equipment.
As part of its agreement with the event planner, the OVC subcontractor agreed to offer a discount rate on certain breakout session equipment rentals. Generally, the discount rate applied to equipment rented for the full five days of the conference. On the fourth day, certain breakout equipment was charged only about 30 percent of the daily rate, and on the fifth day the breakout equipment rental charge was waived. Once applied to the bill, the discount meant that although OVC rented 90 portable projectors (one for each breakout session), it incurred the normal daily rate for only 63 projectors. With this discount, we calculated that the audio-visual equipment rate incurred by each breakout session room averaged $507.
FBI ITEC Conference
The FBI spent approximately $3,000 to rent audio visual equipment and services for two plenary sessions for nearly 300 attendees. The equipment included three microphones, one screen, an LCD monitor, connecting equipment, remote control, and draperies. The in-house audio-visual firm also filmed these sessions.
Using discounted rates, the FBI spent another $3,000 to rent audio-visual equipment for 25 separate breakout sessions held over the 4-day event. In addition to the equipment rented for each breakout session, the FBI used its own laptops, projectors, flip-chart pads, and cables which reduced costs associated with the breakout sessions. According to invoices for the event, the FBI also received a 30 percent discount on equipment because it booked the audio-visual firm’s services 30 days in advance.
Along with equipment rental fees, each of the three conferences incurred costs resulting from labor provided to set up and operate audio-visual equipment. This section reviews the labor costs associated with providing audio-visual support for each event.
PSN spent $59,889 on labor associated with providing audio-visual support. Our review of the audio-visual subcontract and associated invoices found that the event planner hired a communications consultant, show manager, technical directors, lighting directors, audio-visual technicians, camera operators, audio assistants, and other professionals. These individuals charged 1,079 direct labor hours to set up, stage, and operate rented audio-visual equipment during the conference and $12,758 in non-labor expenses to pay for equipment delivery fees and employee travel expenses.
The OVC spent $53,795 on subcontractor audio-visual technical assistance. The OVC subcontractor used 31 technicians and staff to provide this support. These workers billed a total of 1,032 hours of labor during the conference and charged $11,250 in non-labor expenses to pay for equipment delivery fees and employee travel expenses.
Applying the audio-visual discount, the in-house firm at the FBI ITEC Conference charged a total of $1,470 for 34 hours of audio-visual labor. The in-house firm helped the FBI set up each breakout session and provided technical assistance for the ITEC Conference’s plenary sessions.
To determine whether the audio-visual rates were relative to each other, we calculated and compared the average audio-visual assistance hourly rate for each conference as shown in Table 7-3.
AVERAGE AUDIO-VISUAL HOURLY DIRECT LABOR RATES
|Conference Name|| Number
|PSN National Conference||1,079||59,889||56|
|OVC National Symposium||1,032||53,795||52|
|FBI ITEC Conference||34||1,470 *||43|
|Source: OIG analysis of direct labor audio-visual costs
* Applies 30 percent discount uniformly to $2,100 subtotal labor cost.
As Table 7-3 shows, the average hourly labor rate for audio-visual support fell between $56 and $43 per hour. Although the hourly rate for the FBI ITEC Conference was the lowest, we noted that the FBI used its own employees to provide most of the audio-visual technical support for the event, resulting in only 34 hours of direct audio-visual labor provided by non-FBI employees.
The event planners for both PSN and OVC conferences told us that they required extensive audio-visual technical assistance at their events given the complexity of the equipment. We were also told that the rates charged by the respective audio-visual subcontractors were generally less than the average hourly event planner rate. Further, event planners told us that the presentation directors and technicians helped to minimize technical problems with overhead presentations and allowed for smoother transitions between different speakers.
For the three conferences examined, we reviewed and compared the cost of the items rented and the services provided. We found that although expensive, the audio-visual equipment costs were allowable given the considerable discretion federal agencies have regarding how much to spend on audio and visual equipment and services. Although audio-visual equipment and services comprised the third largest category of conference expenditures, our review showed that conference sponsors and event planners can achieve cost savings by bargaining for services and equipment rentals with audio-visual subcontracting firms. The OVC subcontractor provided the National Symposium a discount rate on equipment rentals during the last two days of the conference. The FBI received nearly a 30 percent discount from its total audio-visual bill by booking the firm’s services over 30 days in advance. We believe that obtaining such discount rates for audio-visual equipment constitutes a conference planning best practice.