Many government organizations are responding to the sequestration and various budget cuts by, among other things, cancelling support for conferences and cancelling all scientist and engineer travel to conferences.
Societies (like AIAA) are kvetching about their bottom lines, but this is really much more troubling than just the fiscal health of the societies given how important conferences are in keeping up in the field.
Scientists and engineers use conferences to meet potential collaboration partners and funders, to learn about new work, to maintain relationships formed at previous conferences, and to get feedback on their own work. Distance does still matter and in-person meetings are still important.*
Moreover, in some fields (**) conferences are archival and are relied upon for certification and distribution purposes. Other conferences are the first place new results are mentioned and many authors modify their work based on interactions at meetings ***.
We all complained bitterly during the previous administration about the funding of science and the suppression of some scientific results... but is this much better? How can government regulate well without being up on the science? Maybe this is temporary... but it doesn't look good.
* Olson, G. M., & Olson, J. S. (2000). Distance matters. Human-Computer Interaction, 15(2-3), 139-178. doi: 10.1207/S15327051HCI1523_4 ( there are definitely better citations for this now,... but time is limited)
** Drott, M. C. (1995). Reexamining the role of conference papers in scholarly communication. JASIS, 46(4), 299-305.
*** Garvey, W. D., Tomita, K., Lin, N., & Nelson, C. E. (1972). Research Studies in Patterns of Scientific Communication .2. Role of National Meeting in Scientific and Technical Communication. Information Storage and Retrieval, 8(4), 159-169. doi:10.1016/0020-0271(72)90001-0
note: it took me like weeks to write this because i kept (squirrel) getting distracted... hopefully it makes sense even if it's probably abbreviated from what I originally intended to write.