As House Committees investigate the General Services Administration Las Vegas conference scandal in Washington, the NCUA scaled back its annual examiner training conference in Orlando to a bare bones affair.
Executive Director David Marquis confirmed reports that the regulator canceled a reception for examiners and support staff and said, “There are no frills and no meals for attendees.”
“The reception was originally planned to help with the networking and relationship-building that only come during these conferences for our dispersed workforce. These goals are a key part of our staff development,” Marquis told Credit Union Times.“In order to minimize costs, however, we eliminated the reception. National conference expenses are directly related to training.”
Nearly 1,200 NCUA employees will attend the training conference, which began April 15 and runs through April 27. Only half of the group will attend the one-week program at a time.
The event will save NCUA $128 per person, per day, for a total of more than $200,000 compared to having the event in Washington, thanks to lower hotel costs and per diems. That figure includes the cost to fly Washington-based staff to Orlando, Marquis said. The venue, the BuenaVista Palace Hotel in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., is providing free meeting room space in exchange for all the hotel room business, which the executive director said he didn’t figure into the cost savings.
Former NCUA Board Member Geoff Bacino had praise for Marquis’ money-saving decision to have the conference in Orlando rather than Washington. He said in his experience, NCUA staff have done a good job of presenting budget items to the board when seeking approval.
“I don’t think the NCUA could ever be accused of being a spendthrift,” he said. The decision to cut an examiner reception and free meals for attendees may have been a little bit of an overreaction, he said, but “in light of the GSA story, everybody is more sensitive to the way something would play out in the media and on the Hill.”
Bacino added that credit unions should be giving the NCUA kudos for efforts to improve examiner skills and consistency.
“One of arguments you’re hearing is this moving goal post argument that examiners will sometimes give to credit unions,” he said. “This [conference] will go a long way toward putting that to rest.”
Training will focus on consistency, improving the manner in which examiners enforce regulations in the field, and eliminating differences between regions. Specifically, examiners will attend general sessions covering a new 400-page examination manual that the NCUA board requested to remove those regional differences in quality control.
Breakout sessions will include training on credit risk, interest rate risk, differences between high risk and low risk exam exceptions and a special session for the 200 examiners the NCUA has hired over the past few years. New examiners will be paired with seasoned veterans to share best-practices exam strategies.
Because 75% of examination staff is geographically dispersed, it’s important to bring them together into one venue for training, Marquis said.
“On short subjects, we’ll do those via webinars, but some of the subject matter here has to do with the consistency of application, which has to be a hands-on issue where the examiners can freely talk to each other,” Marquis said.