Government Ends Year-Long Freeze on Travel Expenses

Wednesday, 04 Sep 2013 01:08 PM

By Ken Mandel

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The U.S. government will raise its employee expense reimbursement rates starting Oct. 1, ending what had been a year-long freeze on official travel expenses.

The increases come amid an overall reduction in employee business trips, as a move to save money. The standard per diem for a hotel will rise from $77 to $83, while meals and incidental expenses rates will stay in the $46 to $71 range, the General Services Administration announced last week, reports the Washington Post.

About 2,600 countries fall within the standard rate, but an estimated 400 areas of the U.S. have pricier hotel rooms, such as metropolitan cities like New York City and Chicago.

Those places will retain higher lodging rates. To help offset that, 29 destinations that had been approved for a higher rate — such as Jacksonville, Fla. and Greenville, S.C. will now receive the standard rate, according to the Post.

Reimbursements for travel to the Washington area will go down $7 a night, to $219. In some cities, the per diem will rise.

The Obama administration has "implemented strict policies and controls to ensure that all travel and conference expenditures are cost-effective," GSA associate administrator Anne Rung wrote in a Friday blog post, adding that "there are circumstances in which travel is necessary."

"Federal employees routinely have to travel to serve the American people," she wrote.

"This means fulfilling responsibilities that range from inspecting airplanes and airlines and ensuring that they are operating safely, to performing criminal investigations that span across multiple jurisdictions, to assisting victims of natural disasters."

A maximum reimbursable rate for lodging and food while traveling has also been set.

The GSA's Public Buildings Service received criticism in 2011 when it reportedly spent $823,000 on a four-day conference in Las Vegas. The disclosure led to firings and resignations throughout the agency, including Public Building Service Commissioner Robert Peck and GSA Administrator Martha Johnson.

"It has to be the poster child for bad management," Florida Republican Rep. John Mica told Newsmax in Aug. 2012.

The GSA conference also prompted a 30 percent reduction in the agency's travel budget by the Office of Management and Budget. The GSA froze daily lodging rates for a year while it evaluated its range of rates.

In other moves aimed to control travel costs, the GSA has a voluntary program called FedRooms.com that offers federal travelers competitive rates for hotel rooms below per diem rates. The agency also no longer permits a provision for conferences in which federal employees can spend 25 percent more than per diem rates at those events. That decision will save $10 million in fiscal 2014, GSA officials said.

"For many public servants, travel is a necessary part of their jobs," Rung wrote in her blog post. "As each agency reviews its travel and conference-related activities, each agency must ensure that any spending serves the American people as efficiently and effectively as possible."

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