|By Jennifer Robison, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 28, 2009--Southern Nevada's public officials have intensified efforts to ensure that federal policies allow government travel to Las Vegas.
Early Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., sent letters to Cabinet secretaries and heads of every federal agency to request that they reject travel regulations discriminating against specific cities such as Las Vegas and Reno.
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., also issued statements or sent letters to federal officials regarding travel rules.
The flap was renewed last week, when The Wall Street Journal reported that employees at federal agencies such as the Department of Agriculture were "being encouraged" to conduct meetings in staid destinations such as St. Louis, Milwaukee and Denver. The newspaper reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation spurned a New York-New York conference planner who tried to book an agency meeting. The FBI's parent Cabinet, the Department of Justice, had decided conferences couldn't happen in vacation destinations with spas, resorts and gambling.
Gina Talamona, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, told the Review-Journal on Monday afternoon that the agency does not have a policy that prohibits travel to Las Vegas.
Reid's objective with his letter was to make sure no other agencies ban travel to Southern Nevada, either.
Reid recently received a letter from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel noting the Obama administration's view that travel decisions should revolve around cost-benefit analysis rather than a location's reputation.
So Reid seized on Emanuel's letter, sending missives to all Cabinet secretaries and the heads of all federal agencies asking them to make sure their rules don't prohibit travel to any cities.
"While I am proud of the allure Las Vegas and Reno possess for vacationers, organizations of all sizes and purposes have chosen our state as a destination for their official meetings because it offers them value and convenience," Reid wrote. "It's therefore no surprise that over the last two decades Nevada has become a world-class destination for business conventions."
Reid also noted in his letter that Las Vegas has a "relatively low" average daily room rate of about $90.
Goodman followed up with a statement thanking Reid and the White House for working with him to "rectify a wrong."
"I'm confident that now even federal employees will get the chance to learn that Las Vegas is a great place to do business and also a great place to have a little fun when the meetings are done," Goodman wrote.
Berkley and Titus joined the chorus with a joint letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to issue a directive saying that federal agencies can't "blacklist" specific cities.
Reid spokesman Jon Summers said Reid's letter should be the last of the flap, as it's clear from Emanuel's communication that there's no room for destination discrimination under the Obama administration.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority doesn't track numbers on how many federal agencies even visit Southern Nevada, because such meetings happen inside the ballrooms at local hotels and not at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
But business volume isn't the key concern here, Summers said.
"In this economy, every visitor and every dollar counts," he said.
The travel policies went into effect between 2006 and 2008, after officials in the Bush administration determined that leisure-oriented markets weren't appropriate sites for federal meetings.
Summers said the travel policies have become an issue only in recent weeks because the rules were just discovered.
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