PART
IV

Before You Travel

In preparation for your official travel, you should become thoroughly familiar with the FTR. Once you have a working understanding of the FTR, you should follow certain steps and be prepared to provide certain information prior to traveling.

This part provides basic information regarding what is required to travel using government funds for official business. When all else fails in determining whether or not a certain expense should be incurred or whether or not a certain type of rental vehicle is considered a luxury car, the federal government has a standard of care for incurring travel expenses that a traveler must follow. This standard of care is also known as “the prudent rule.” Simply put, travelers should ask themselves: “If these were my funds, would I …?”

Federal employees and those who are traveling on behalf of the federal government must exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on personal business.

Another test to determine the appropriateness for traveling or incurring an expense is what is widely known in the Washington, D.C., area as the Washington Post test. Simply ask yourself whether or not you or your agency wants to be on the front page of the Washington Post. With those two test questions setting the stage for travel, let’s look into what you should know before you travel.

7 What is the role of the Administrator of the General Services Administration?

The Administrator of General Services promulgates the FTR to (1) interpret statutory and other policy requirements in a manner that balances the need to ensure that official travel is conducted in a responsible manner with the need to minimize administrative costs and (2) communicate the resulting policies in a clear manner to federal agencies and employees.

8 What is the FTR?

The FTR, contained in Title 41 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Chapters 300 through 304, implements statutory requirements and executive branch policies for travel by federal civilian employees and others authorized to travel at government expense.

9 What is the purpose of the FTR?

The FTR has two principal purposes:

To interpret statutory and other policy requirements in a manner that balances the need to ensure that official travel is conducted in a responsible manner with the need to minimize administrative costs

To communicate the resulting policies in a clear manner to federal agencies and employees.

RESPONSIBILITIES

An important aspect of understanding federal travel is to know the areas of responsibilities. Before a traveler can know what is expected of him/her in performing official travel, the agency must provide certain information. The agency is the first line of defense for ensuring the appropriateness of travel. The approving official is an important enforcer of the agency’s written travel policy. Once armed with the required information, the traveler can prepare to perform the official travel as directed.

Agency Responsibilities

Although it appears that a vast majority of the rules in the FTR are discretionary, some rules are mandatory. Travelers and agencies are required to perform certain actions for the traveler to be eligible for reimbursement of travel expenses. Agencies have discretion for authorizing certain travel expenses in a manner that is most effective and efficient for the agency or that is most advantageous to the government. Accordingly, agencies are required to have written established policies based on the various statutes as outlined in 5 U.S.C. Chapter 57. The FTR establishes conditions for payment of travel allowances based on 5 U.S.C. Chapter 57.

10 Why is it important for agencies to have written travel policies?

Having clear written policies makes it easier to determine a traveler’s entitlement when compared with any condition noted on the traveler’s travel authorization.

Agency policy cannot be less stringent than or contrary to the FTR.

For example, in GSBCA 15220-TRAV, In the Matter of Renea A. Webb (April 10, 2000), an employee of the Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) in New Jersey was authorized to travel for training to Maryland. USDA requested that Webb and other employees attending the session who lived in New Jersey carpool to Maryland. The agency informed the employees that if they did not ride together they would receive a reduced mileage rate.

Webb chose to drive alone. After returning, she submitted a travel voucher for mileage expenses based on the POV rate at the time (31 cents per mile). USDA, however, reimbursed her only 23.5 cents per mile. The agency noted that she had been informed that if she chose not to carpool, she would be reimbursed at a reduced mileage rate, citing its Office of Inspector General (OIG) manual as authority for its decision. According to the manual, “all employees traveling by car to the same approximate destination are encouraged to travel in the same vehicle to the maximum extent possible.… When an employee chooses not to travel in the authorized vehicle which has been determined as the most advantageous to the government … the employee’s reimbursement will be subject to a mileage reduction to the least amount allowed by the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR).” At the time of Webb’s travel, the minimum mileage rate was 23.5 cents.

Webb appealed to the GSBCA, which determined that she should be reimbursed at the higher rate. The board emphasized that the FTR does not permit an agency to make reimbursement at a lower mileage rate simply because carpooling would be more advantageous to the government than having the employee use his/her own vehicle.

The FTR establishes only two instances where an agency may reimburse an employee at a reduced rate. An agency may limit reimbursement to 23.5 cents per mile if use of a government-furnished car would be more advantageous to the government but a POV is “allowed” nonetheless. Also, agencies may limit reimbursement even further, to 10.5 cents per mile, if an employee is committed to using a government-furnished car or if the employee is not ordinarily authorized to use a POV but still requests to drive his/her own car.

In this case, neither of these exceptions applied. According to the GSBCA, the provision of the OIG manual that allows a reduction in the mileage rate “is plainly at odds with the FTR.” Because the FTR was passed by Congress, it overrides any contrary provisions of the agency manual.

11 What specific policies are agencies required to establish for travel?

Agencies must establish policies and procedures governing, at a minimum:

Who will determine what method of transportation is more advantageous to the government

Who will approve any of the following:

– Use of other than coach-class transportation accommodations for air and rail in accordance with the FTR

– Use of a special reduced fare or reduced group or charter fare

– Use of an extra-fare train service in accordance with the FTR

– Use of a foreign air carrier

When the agency will:

– Require the use of a government vehicle

– Allow the use of a government vehicle

– Prohibit the use of a government vehicle

When the agency will consider use of a POV advantageous to the government, such as travel to and from common carrier terminals, or transportation to a TDY location

Procedures for claiming POV reimbursement

When the agency will allow use of a special conveyance (e.g., commercially rented vehicle)

What procedures an employee must follow when he/she travels by an indirect route or interrupts travel by a direct route

Whether to reimburse the full amount of transportation costs in conjunction with TDY or only the amount by which transportation costs exceed the employee’s normal costs for transportation between:

– Office or duty point and another place of business

– Places of business

– Residence and place of business other than office or duty point.

Agencies must also:

develop and issue internal guidance on what specific mission criteria justify approval of the use of other than coach-class transportation in accordance with FTR (with justification criteria entered in the remarks section of the traveler’s travel authorization)

Develop and publish internal guidance regarding what constitutes a rest period upon arrival at a temporary duty location

Develop and publish internal guidance regarding seating upgrade programs in coach class.

12 May agency policy provide an allowance or entitlement more favorable to the traveler that is less stringent than the FTR?

No. Agencies have the discretion to make their own policies more stringent—but not less stringent—than the FTR. For example, although FTR section 301-11.31 states in part that dry cleaning expenses are reimbursable if the traveler spends a minimum of four consecutive nights lodging on official travel, agency policy might require a minimum of six consecutive nights, which would supersede the FTR policy.

Traveler Responsibilities

Travelers are responsible for preparing and submitting all travel documents, including initial authorizations, amendments, and post-trip vouchers. The traveler is also liable for any false or fraudulent written or oral statements under the False Claims Act (18 U.S.C. 287, 18 U.S.C. 1001 and 31 U.S.C. 3729).

13 What are the traveler’s responsibilities?

Overall, travelers are responsible for:

Being familiar with government travel policies, regulations, and procedures for traveling on government funds

Performing all official travel within the guidance and direction provided by those policies

Requesting clarification on the policy of any travel policy, regulation, or procedure that he/she does not understand

Exercising the standard of care rule when incurring reimbursable travel expenses in the performance of official travel

Using the mode of transportation that results in the greatest overall advantage to the government

Planning travel to minimize per diem expense

Not delaying the performance of official travel for personal benefit

Paying any additional expenses resulting from scheduling travel for personal convenience and charging excess travel time against leave

Accounting for funds advanced for travel purposes since the traveler is indebted to the government for those funds

Using the individually billed travel charge card issued for official travel. (See also Part V of this guide, While on Travel, regarding paying for your travel expenses with a contractor-issued government travel charge card.)

Approving Official Responsibilities

An approving official for travel must know and understand the regulations and policies that govern the performance of his/her duties. An approving official is required to have written authority delegated by the agency head to determine when TDY travel is necessary to accomplish the agency’s mission, authorize travel, obligate travel funds, approve trip arrangements, and authorize travel expenses incurred in connection with that mission.

An approving official must consider the total cost to the government (including costs of per diem, overtime, lost work time, and actual transportation), total distance traveled, number of points visited, number of travelers, and energy conservation. Moreover, an approving official must have full knowledge of the employee’s activities.

While reviewing and approving a voucher, the approving official must ensure that:

The claim is properly prepared in accordance with the pertinent regulations and agency procedures

A copy of the authorization for travel is provided

The types of expenses claimed are authorized and allowable expenses

The amounts claimed are accurate

The required receipts, statements, justifications, etc., are attached to the travel claim.

The approving official reviews the completed claim to ensure that the claim is properly prepared in accordance with regulations and agency procedures prior to authorization for payment.

An approving official may disallow a claim by a traveler and must provide the reason for the disallowance in writing in accordance with FTR sections 301-52.8 and 301-52.9.

14 When authorizing travel, what factors must the authorizing official consider?

The authorizing official must consider:

The need for the travel

The use of travel substitutes (e.g., mail, teleconferencing, videoconferencing)

The most cost-effective routing and means of accomplishing travel

The employee’s travel plans, including plans to take leave in conjunction with travel.

Additional guidance on authorizing travel is provided in OMB Memorandum M-12-12, Promoting Efficient Spending to Support Agency Operations (May 11, 2012) and Executive Order 13589, Promoting Efficient Spending (November 9, 2011).

15 What key questions should an approving official consider when authorizing travel?

The approving official should consider these basic questions when authorizing travel:

Is the travel necessary?

Are the travel times reasonable?

Are the total costs correct?

Are funds available?

Is the traveler using a contract carrier? If not, does the traveler meet one of the approved exceptions?

Is a rental car required or needed? Is the size of the car adequate to fulfill the travel mission?

Are exceptions to policy adequately justified, documented, and authorized?

TRAVEL PREPARATION

When planning and preparing for official government travel, a traveler must comply with the laws, regulations, and mandates regarding:

When a travel authorization is required

Preparation of the travel authorization

Which travel arrangements require specific authorization or advance approval

When a travel authorization requires an amendment

Why government travelers are required to use contract fares and the exceptions for not using contract fares

Defining travel status and when a traveler is entitled to per diem

Complying with the rules for invitational travel

Understanding when it is necessary to accommodate a special need.

Travel Authorization

After you receive verbal approval to travel, you are required to prepare a travel authorization (or order) in accordance with FTR section 301-50.3. A travel authorization is a written document that provides permission to travel on official business. The travel authorization notes any condition or allowable expense that is not clearly identified as a part of official travel but does not entitle the traveler to an expense that is illegal or is not authorized under any mandated travel document.

16 What is the purpose of the travel authorization process?

The purpose of the travel authorization process is to:

Provide the employee information regarding what expenses the agency will pay

Provide financial information necessary for budgetary planning

Identify the purpose of travel

Ensure the travel is approved before it is performed.

17 What are the basic types of travel authorizations allowable for travel?

The basic types of travel authorizations are:

Unlimited open – An authorization that allows an employee to travel for any official purpose without further authorization.

Limited open – An authorization that allows an employee to travel on official business without further authorization under certain specific conditions (such as travel to specific geographic areas for specific purposes, travel subject to trip cost ceilings, or travel for specific periods of time).

Trip-by-trip – An authorization that allows an individual or group of individuals to take one or more specific official business trips, which must include specific purpose, itinerary, and estimated costs. This type of travel authorization is the one most often used by civilian travelers.

18 What information is required on a travel authorization?

A travel authorization must include:

Name of the employee

Signature of the proper authorizing official

Purpose of travel

Any conditions of or limitations on the authorization

Estimate of the travel costs (unlimited and limited open authorizations should include an estimate of the travel costs over the period covered)

Statement that the employee is authorized to travel.

19 What types of conditions or limitations may be stated on a travel authorization?

Many conditions or limitations may be imposed on travel using government funds. These may include: a statement that the traveler is not a government travel charge cardholder; whether or not the traveler is exempt from the mandatory use of a government travel charge card; how the traveler can obtain an advance; whether or not a rest stop is authorized; and specific approval to use a rental car.

20 Why does a traveler need written authorization to travel? Isn’t the word of a supervisor good enough?

Although a supervisor may verbally direct a traveler to travel, generally, you must have written or electronic authorization prior to incurring any travel expense. Written or electronic authorization determines travel entitlements and any condition for traveling. You will also need the written or electronic authorization for reimbursement of any travel expense. If it is impossible or impractical to obtain a travel authorization prior to travel, your agency may approve a specific authorization for reimbursement of travel expenses after the travel is completed.

21 Who and what determine a traveler’s mode of transportation for travel?

The traveler is entitled to transportation costs to and from the TDY location. The traveler must travel to the destination by the usually traveled route unless the agency authorizes/approves a different route.

Under 5 U.S.C. 5733, travel must be by the most expeditious means of transportation practicable and commensurate with the nature and purpose of the traveler’s duties. The agency head is required to have written, established policies and procedures regarding who will determine what method of transportation is more advantageous to the government.

22 What travel arrangements require specific authorization or prior approval?

A government traveler must have a specific authorization or prior approval for:

Use of other than coach-class service on common carrier transportation.

Use of a foreign air carrier.

Use of reduced fares for group or charter arrangements.

Use of cash to pay for common carrier transportation.

Use of extra-fare train service.

Travel by ship.

Use of a rental car.

Use of a government aircraft.

Payment of a reduced per diem rate.

Payment of actual expense, unless your agency has issued a blanket actual expense authorization for TDY travel in an area subject to a presidentially declared disaster. This authorization must apply to a specific declaration and must end on the expiration date of the declaration or one year from the date the declaration is issued, whichever is sooner. (A blanket authorization issued under this condition does not apply to any travel performed pursuant to relocation allowances.)

Travel expenses related to emergency travel.

Transportation expenses (i.e., of things, including animals and household goods) related to threatened law enforcement/investigative employees and members of their families.

Travel expenses related to travel to a foreign area.

Acceptance of payment from a nonfederal source for travel expenses.

Travel expenses related to attendance at a conference.

Payment of the full M&IE allowance even though meals are furnished by the government either directly or through a registration fee or other payment for a conference or other event to accommodate an employee’s medical requirements or religious beliefs.

A travel authorization may be amended to correct or complete a travel authorization to show the original intent.

23 If a traveler returns from a trip a day early, does he/she need to amend the authorization to reflect the date change? Conversely, if the trip is extended for official business, does the authorization have to be amended to reflect the changed dates before approving the voucher?

Yes. A traveler must be in a travel status to be paid travel entitlements. Because certain changes to an itinerary that may result in a traveler not being in a travel status or not entitled to an allowance, an amendment is required. Similarly, if a traveler extends a trip for official business, the agency must pay the traveler an allowance; therefore, an amendment is required. Overall, an amendment is required for any condition not previously authorized, such as departing earlier from the TDY station, extending the trip, changing the mode of travel, or in general any change that affects the cost of the trip.

A travel authorization may not be revoked or modified retroactively to create or deny an allowance.

Passports/Visas

Before traveling overseas to perform official government business, a traveler must have an official passport and, in some cases, a visa. The traveler may also need country clearance before entering a foreign country. The government will generally reimburse the traveler for some of the expenses associated with obtaining an official passport or visa.

24 Can a traveler use a personal passport for official government travel?

No. A traveler must have an official or a diplomatic passport when conducting official government business in a foreign country.

25 Can a traveler be reimbursed for passport and visa fees?

Yes. A traveler may be reimbursed under the miscellaneous expense category for passport and visa fees. This include fees for a physical examination if one is required to obtain a passport or visa and such examination could not be obtained at a government facility.

26 Who determines whether or not a traveler is exempt from the fee for an official passport?

In accordance with the State Department’s requirements for processing a no-fee passport, a traveler is exempt by law from payment for the passport if he/she is (1) an officer or employee of the U.S. government traveling abroad for the U.S. government or (2) the dependent of someone traveling abroad for the U.S. government and will accompany them on their assignment.

No-fee passports are issued only in book form. If you are applying for a no-fee passport book at a passport acceptance facility, you will be charged the $25.00 passport execution fee; however, you are not required to pay the passport fee.

27 What other passport and visa fees are reimbursable?

A traveler may also be reimbursed for the costs of photographs for passports and visas; foreign country exit fees; costs of birth, health, and identity certificates; and charges for inoculations that cannot be obtained through a federal dispensary.

28 How can a traveler obtain health information for the country he/she will be traveling to?

Health information regarding travel outside the United States may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control. Here’s the link for information by specific country: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list.htm.

29 Can a traveler be reimbursed for transportation costs incurred while obtaining an official passport or visa?

A traveler may be reimbursed for travel and transportation costs to the passport/visa issuing office if it is located outside the local commuting area of the employee’s official station and the traveler’s presence at that office is mandatory.

30 Can an official passport be used for personal travel?

No. You may use your no-fee passport book only when traveling overseas while performing official government duties. For personal travel, you must use a regular-fee passport book or card. You may have both a valid regular passport book and a valid no-fee passport book at the same time.

31 Can a traveler pick up an official passport from the passport facility?

Generally, no-fee passport books are sent to or picked up by the organization, government agency, or branch of service sponsoring the passport issuance, not the individual. The sponsor of your official travel should appear in the “mailing address” block of the application.

32 For how long must a passport for official travel be valid?

Your official or diplomatic passport must be valid for at least three months after the travel departure date.

33 When is host country clearance required?

Formal host country clearance is required by most foreign countries for U.S. federal, state, or local officials to conduct judicial assistance activities abroad. This includes taking depositions, interviews, inspections, etc.

34 What is host country clearance?

Sometimes overseas travel requires a country clearance. Prior to the arrival of a U.S official intending to conduct judicial assistance activity abroad, it may be necessary for the U.S. consulate to deliver a diplomatic note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The note explains the purpose of the travel and requests permission for the U.S. official to conduct judicial assistance activity. This notification may or may not be required, depending on the nature and purpose of the trip and the sensitivities of the host country.

35 What will happen if a traveler does not get host country clearance?

Travel without prior clearance can result in arrest, detention, expulsion, or deportation of the official. It can also negatively affect U.S. policy interests and future attempts to gain host country judicial assistance.

36 Is U.S. embassy clearance also required?

Federal executive branch government officials traveling abroad for judicial assistance purposes also require clearance from the U.S. embassy or consulate in the particular country. This requirement is derived from the country authority of ambassadors and chiefs of mission, 22 U.S.C. 3927 and E.O. 10893, Part II, 11/8/60.

37 Can U.S. embassy clearance for travel be denied?

If the proposed official travel coincides with the arrival of a presidential, vice presidential, or congressional delegation, summit meeting, or similar workload-intensive event, it is possible that the embassy will not have the staff or space to support the proposed judicial assistance travel on the proposed date. During time of an international crisis, resulting in the authorized or ordered departure of official personnel from the embassy or consulate or closure of the embassy or consulate, embassy clearance may be denied.

38 Can the embassy or consulate provide interpreters, stenographers, video equipment, etc.?

These services are not available at the embassy or consulate. However, for official travelers involved in judicial assistance matters, embassies and consulates can assist in either retaining foreign host country commercial services (charging them against your federal fiscal data and appropriation number or credit card) or furnish you with information regarding how you can retain such services directly. If no such services are available in the host country, it may be necessary to bring your own support staff. Foreign embassies or consulates in the United States can advise on any special requirements associated with importing electronic equipment to ensure that your equipment is not confiscated.

39 How do I report a lost or stolen passport?

If your passport is lost or stolen while overseas, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. For more information about a lost or stolen passport, or what to do if you find someone else’s passport, call the State Department at 877-487-2778 or visit its website, http://travel.state.gov/passport/lost/lost_848.html.

40 What should a traveler do in the event of unanticipated civil disturbance or unrest while on official travel?

Travelers are encouraged to stay abreast of such matters pertaining to the specific country that will be visited through postings and notifications of travel alerts issued by the State Department. The State Department’s Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management administers the Consular Information Program, which informs the public of conditions abroad that may affect their safety and security. Country-specific information, travel alerts, and travel warnings are vital parts of this program; information is available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/travel_1744.html.

41 Can an agency pay the transportation expenses of an employee’s dependents during an evacuation?

5 U.S.C. 5725 authorizes the government to pay the transportation expenses of the dependents of a government employee, as well as the expenses incurred in transporting household goods from a foreign location to a safe haven location within the continental United States, when an evacuation is ordered or authorized.

This entitlement is implemented by Chapter 600 of the Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR).

42 How can an agency track its overseas travelers in the event of civil unrest?

For an agency to support its overseas travelers, it must first know when and where they are going. The agency can then assist travelers in preparing for the trip in terms of travel documentation, health and immunizations, safety, security, transportation, etc. Using a traveler’s itinerary, the agency can quickly identify any impacts of worldwide events, such as catastrophic weather, earthquakes, civil unrest, strikes, etc. The itinerary provides a good starting point for locating a traveler. Various mobile tracking solutions are also available if the agency needs more detailed information.

43 How can an agency integrate travel risk management with ETS to mitigate certain travel risks an international traveler may encounter?

There is currently only one company on the GSA schedule, under the special item number (SIN) 599-1, that provides travel security risk assessment and related training to support travel risk management needs, including travel security needs for international government travelers. That company, iJET International, Inc., uses a risk management system that seamlessly interfaces with the government’s etravel initiatives and ETS by linking directly to source itinerary information and thereby providing automated itinerary tracking.

Travel Advance

A travel advance is a prepayment of estimated travel expenses to an employee in advance of travel. A travel advance minimizes an employee’s out-of-pocket expenses related to official travel.

44 For what expenses may a traveler receive a travel advance?

A traveler may receive an advance for the following expenses:

For You may receive an advance

Cash transaction expenses (i.e., expenses that as a general rule cannot be charged and must be paid using cash, a personal check, or traveler’s check). These include:

M&IE covered by the per diem allowance or actual expenses allowance

Miscellaneous transportation expenses such as transit system and taxi fares; parking fees; ferry fees; bridge, road, and tunnel fees

Gasoline and other variable expenses covered by the mileage allowance for advantageous use of a privately owned automobile for official business

Other authorized miscellaneous expenses that cannot be charged using a government contractor–issued charge card and for which a cost can be estimated.

Any time you are on official travel.

Non-cash transaction expenses, such as lodging, common carrier, and advance payment of a discounted conference registration fee.

Only in the following situations:

Government contractor-issued charge card is not expected to be accepted.

Government contractor-issued charge card issuance is denied. Your agency has decided not to provide you a government contractor–issued individually billed travel card.

Official change of station. Your agency determines that use of a government contractor–issued individually billed travel card would not be feasible incident to a transfer, particularly a transfer to another agency.

Financial hardship would be incurred.

45 What is the maximum amount that an agency may advance?

The amount your agency advances may not exceed the following amounts:

For The maximum amount your agency may advance is
Cash transaction expenses The estimated amount of your cash transaction expenses. (For M&IE, your advance is limited to the M&IE rate under the lodgings-plus per diem method.)
Non-cash transaction expenses Generally zero. However, your agency may advance up to the full amount of your expected non-cash transaction expenses for an individual trip (not to exceed a 45-day period for an open authorization) in accordance with the FTR.

46 When must a traveler account for an advance?

A traveler must file a travel claim that accounts for the advance after completion of the travel, in accordance with agency policy. If a traveler is in a continuous travel status (e.g., an auditor or inspector) or if the traveler submits periodic reimbursement vouchers on an individual trip authorization, the agency may reimburse the traveler the full amount of travel expenses without any deduction of the advance until the traveler files a final voucher. If the amount advanced is less than the amount of the voucher on which it is deducted, the traveler will be reimbursed the net amount. If the advance exceeds the reimbursable amount, the traveler must refund the excess immediately.

47 What is general agency policy governing the use of travel advances?

Agencies should minimize the use of cash travel advances. However, an agency should not require an employee to pay travel expenses using personal funds unless the employee has elected not to use alternative resources provided by the government, such as a government contractor–issued charge card.

48 In situations where a lodging facility requires the payment of a deposit, may an agency reimburse an employee for an advance room deposit prior to the beginning of scheduled official travel?

Yes. When an advance room deposit is required by the lodging facility to secure a room reservation, the agency may reimburse an employee the deposit prior to the beginning of the employee’s scheduled official travel. However, if the employee is reimbursed the advance room deposit but fails to perform the scheduled official travel for reasons not acceptable to the agency, resulting in forfeit of the deposit, the employee is indebted to the government and must repay the amount in a timely manner as prescribed by the agency.

49 For how long may an agency issue a travel advance?

The agency may issue a travel advance for a reasonable period not to exceed 45 days.

50 What data must an agency capture in its travel advance accounting system?

An agency must capture the following data in its travel advance accounting system:

The name and Social Security number of each employee who has has received an advance

The amount of the advance

The date of issuance

The date of reconciliation for unused portions of travel advances.

51 When must an employee account for a travel advance?

An employee must account for an outstanding travel advance each time he/she files a travel claim. If the employee receives a travel advance but determines that the related travel will not be performed, then the employee must inform the agency that the travel will not be performed and repay the advance at that time.

52 May travelers be reimbursed for stolen travel advances?

No. An advance of funds is considered a personal loan to the traveler. If the funds were in the custody of the traveler, the traveler is responsible and accountable for the funds. The government must recoup the funds if the traveler cannot show that the funds were spent for official travel-related expenses or returned. The government is not obligated to relieve the employee from liability to repay stolen funds; however, under the agency’s policy, it has discretion to resolve the claim under 31 U.S.C. 3721.

For example, in GSBCA 13872-TRAV, In the Matter of William O’Callaghan (May 16, 1997), an employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was authorized for TDY in the Ukraine. Because traveler’s checks and credit cards are not generally accepted in the Ukraine, O’Callaghan requested and was granted a cash advance of $3,000 for meals, lodgings, and incidental expenses.

Upon arriving in the Ukraine, he was advised by the local USAID office that he should not leave cash or valuables in his hotel due to the threat of theft. Accordingly, O’Callaghan carried his cash and valuables on his person.

Unfortunately, he was attacked and robbed after leaving a colleague’s birthday party, which had been held in O’Callaghan’s hotel. Although the robbery did not take place during working hours, O’Callaghan and other attendees worked part of the time by placing phone calls to USAID headquarters in Washington, D.C., and discussing business-related issues.

The assailant absconded with most of O’Callaghan’s travel advance and several personal items, and O’Callaghan was hospitalized for nine hours after the attack. He filed a claim under the Military Personnel and Civilian Employees’ Claim Act. USAID denied the claim on the basis that the loss did not occur during official working hours or on official premises. The fact that he made a few phone calls and spoke with attendees about business matters did not turn the party into an official event for which the agency was responsible.

O’Callaghan appealed to the GSBCA. USAID argued that O’Callaghan was precluded from raising the claim with the board. The agency emphasized that the Personnel and Civilian Employees’ Claim Act provided the sole remedy for O’Callaghan, and he had exhausted that remedy when it denied his claim.

The board agreed with USAID’s argument. It noted that GAO had ruled previously that travel advances are personal loans for which the government is not obligated to relieve employees from liability for stolen amounts. In addition, the FTR authorizes only the reimbursement of travel expenses essential to the transaction of official business.

O’Callaghan’s loss of personal belongings was therefore not considered a reimbursable expense under the FTR.

53 Are there exceptions to the agency’s collecting an advance at the time the employee files a travel claim?

Yes, when the employee is in a continuous travel status such as an auditor or inpector and the agency:

Reviews each outstanding travel advance on a periodic basis (i.e., a reasonable time of 45 days or less)

Determines that the amount, if any, of the outstanding balance exceeds the amount of estimated travel expenses for the authorized period and collects the excess amount from the employee.

54 Is the agency responsible for collecting outstanding travel advances? How does the agency collect the amount of a travel advance that exceeds the amount of the travel expenses substantiated by the employee?

Yes, the agency is responsible for collecting outstanding travel advances. When the outstanding advance exceeds the amount the agency owes the employee, then the employee must submit cash or a check for the difference in accordance with agency policy. If the agency fails to collect the amount that is in excess of substantiated expenses, it will be in violation of the accountable plan rules contained in the Internal Revenue Code (title 26 of the United States Code).

55 What should an agency do if the employee does not pay back a travel advance when the travel claim is filed?

If the employee fails to pay back a travel advance when the claim is filed, the agency should take steps to collect the debt, for example:

Offset the amount against the employee’s salary, retirement credit, or other amount owed the employee

Deduct the amount from another amount the government owes the employee

Pursue any other legal method of recovery.

56 What internal policies and procedures must an agency establish governing travel advances?

Accountability for cash advances for travel, recovery, and reimbursement must be in accordance with procedures prescribed by GAO (see the GAO Policy and Procedures Manual for Guidance of Federal Agencies, Title 7, Fiscal Procedures – Transmittal Sheet No. 7-43 dated May 18, 1993).

Contract Fares

Travelers are required to use the GSA City Pair Program (CPP), which offers contract fares unless a specific exception applies for official travel.

57 Why are government travelers required to use contract fares when cheaper fares may be available on the internet?

Extensive analysis shows that the flexibility of contract fares provides government travelers the best deal overall, compared to volatile commercial airline rates.

CPP features allow government travelers unsurpassed flexibility. Fares are unrestricted, meaning that:

No advance purchase is required

No minimum or maximum length of stay is required

Tickets are fully refundable

There is no fee for cancellations or changes

Last seat availability

There are no blackout periods.

58 What does last seat availability mean?

Last seat availability means that if any economy seats are available for purchase, government travelers will be guaranteed the CPP standard fare. Last seat availability refers to a price guarantee and not where a traveler sits on the plane. Last seat availability does not include seat assignment preference.

59 What is a capacity control fare and how does it differ from a YCA fare?

There are two contract fares, also known as dual fares. The most commonly known and used fare is a YCA fare, which is a highly discounted, unrestricted fare. A capacity control fare is a fare that has a deeper discount than a YCA fare if the traveler can book early and the fare is identified as a dash CA (_CA) fare.

If travel plans are certain (e.g., attending a conference or training) or the traveler’s schedule is flexible, a _CA fare offers additional savings. The price differential between YCA and _CA fares varies by market, but can be significant.

The earlier the reservation is made, the greater the chances that an agency will receive the additional savings that _CA fares offer. With a _CA fare, the traveler enjoys all the benefits of an unrestricted YCA fare.

60 Under what circumstances can non-contract fares be used?

An agency may authorize use of a fare other than a contract city-pair fare in the following situations:

Space on a scheduled contract flight is not available in time to accomplish the purpose of the travel, or the use of contract service would require the traveler to incur unnecessary overnight lodging costs, increasing the total cost of the trip.

The contractor’s flight schedule is inconsistent with the explicit policies of the traveler’s federal department or agency with regard to scheduling travel during normal working hours.

A non-contract carrier offers a lower fare to the general public that will result in a lower total trip cost to the government (considering the combined costs of transportation, lodging, meals, and related expenses). This exception does not apply if the contract carrier offers the same or lower fare and has seats available at that fare, or if the fare offered by the non-contract carrier is restricted to government and military travelers performing official business. The non-contract fare may be purchased only with a contractor-issued charge card, centrally billed account, or GTR (when the two previous options are not available).

Cost-effective rail service is available and is consistent with mission requirements.

Smoking is permitted on the contract air carrier and the nonsmoking section of the contract aircraft is not acceptable to the traveler.

61 Can a contract fare be used for personal travel?

No. The use of contract fares is limited to official travel only. If personal travel is being taken in conjunction with official government travel, the contract fares cannot be used for the portion of the trip that is personal. The traveler is required to purchase the personal portion of the trip separately from the official government travel. No personal stops should be reflected on the official travel itinerary.

The agency may also collect from travelers the cost of any airfare purchased for them if the travelers exchange the tickets for non-refundable fares that include personal travel and the agency subsequently cancels the official tickets. For example, in GSBCA 14051-TRAV, In the Matter of Judy Van Alfen (November 7, 1997), an employee of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in Washington, D.C., was authorized to travel to Cincinnati, Ohio. The agency approved air travel for the trip and purchased a ticket on a government contract carrier for her in the amount of $408.

Van Alfen decided that she wanted to combine some personal travel with her trip to Ohio, so she exchanged the ticket purchased by her agency for one that included personal travel. The new ticket was non-refundable.

Shortly before her departure date, the IRS canceled her trip due to other pressing business and requested that she refund the $408 spent on her original ticket. Van Alfen refused. She argued that the new ticket was non-refundable. Moreover, the ticket was forfeited as a result of the agency’s decision to cancel her trip.

Van Alfen appealed to the General Services Board of Contract Appeals (GSBCA), but the board rejected her appeal. It emphasized that the FTR is clear that if, for personal convenience, an employee elects to modify arrangements made for official travel, he/she is responsible for any resulting additional cost.

If Van Alfen had not exchanged the original ticket for a non-refundable one that included personal travel, the government would have received a refund for canceling her trip. Therefore, the amount of the original ticket represented the cost Van Alfen must pay for modifying her travel arrangements.

62 Can personal travel be combined with official travel?

Yes, personal travel may be combined with official travel. However, the traveler is responsible for any additional charges resulting from the personal travel, including traveling by an indirect route or extending an official stopover for more than four hours.

The traveler may not use the government travel charge card for personal travel, or use government contract fares for any personal leg of the trip or to calculate a difference in fares for personal travel. Also, the traveler’s official itinerary should not reflect personal stops or paid per diem while in a leave status.

To ensure compliance with the FTR, the official travel should be ticketed and issued separately from the personal travel. The traveler may then exchange the ticket with the official itinerary for a new one to accommodate the personal travel, and pay any additional fees at that time.

Per Diem

Per diem allowance (also referred to as subsistence allowance) is a daily payment instead of reimbursement for actual expenses for lodging, meals, and related incidental expenses. The per diem allowance is separate from transportation expenses and other miscellaneous expenses. The per diem allowance covers all charges, including any service charges where applicable. Lodging taxes in the United States are excluded from the per diem allowance and are reimbursed as a miscellaneous expense. In foreign locations, lodging taxes are part of the per diem allowance and cannot be separated or reimbursed as a miscellaneous expense.

63 Does GSA establish all per diem rates?

No. The General Services Administration (GSA) establishes per diem rates in the continental United States (CONUS). For travelers to CONUS locations, laundry, dry cleaning, and taxes on lodging may be reimbursed in addition to the per diem rate.

The Department of Defense establishes per diem rates for non-foreign locations outside the continental United States, such as Alaska, Hawaii, or Guam. Travelers to these non-foreign “OCONUS” locations may claim lodging tax expenses separately, but may not claim laundry and dry cleaning expenses as those expenses are included in the incidental expenses portion of the OCONUS per diem rate, as stated in FTR section 301-11.31.

Foreign per diem rates are established by the Secretary of State for reimbursement of government civilians traveling on official business in foreign areas. Lodging and M&IE (meals and incidental expenses) are reported separately followed by a combined daily rate. The M&IE portion is intended to substantially cover the cost of meals and incidental travel expenses such as laundry and dry cleaning. Therefore, laundry and dry cleaning may not be claimed separately or as a miscellaneous expense for foreign travel.

64 What policies is an agency required to establish for authorization and payment of per diem expenses?

Agencies must establish policies and procedures governing:

Who will authorize a rest period

Circumstances allowing a rest period during prolonged travel

Whether, and in what instances, an employee is allowed to return to his/her official station on non-workdays

Who will determine whether an employee will be allowed to return to his/her official station on a case-by-case basis

Who will determine in what instances a reduced per diem rate will be paid

Who will determine, and in what instances, whether a blanket authorization will be issued for actual expenses in accordance with the FTR or when actual expenses are appropriate in individual cases

Who will determine, and in what instances, whether an employee will be able to claim the full M&IE allowance even though meals are furnished to the employee by the government, in accordance with the FTR.

65 What does the per diem allowance cover?

The per diem allowance covers:

Lodging- Expenses except lodging taxes in the United States, for overnight sleeping facilities, baths, personal use of the room during daytime, telephone access fee, and service charges for fans, air conditioners, and heaters furnished in the room when such charges are not included in the room rate.

Meals- Expenses for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and related tips and taxes. (Specifically excluded are alcoholic beverage and entertainment expenses, and any expenses incurred for other persons.)

Incidental expenses:

– Fees and tips given to porters, baggage carriers, hotel staff, and staff on ships

– Transportation between places of lodging or business and places where meals are taken, if suitable meals cannot be obtained at the TDY site

– Mailing costs associated with filing travel vouchers and payment of government-sponsored charge card billings.

66 What is a standard CONUS location?

A standard CONUS location is a location that is less frequently traveled by the federal community and therefore is not specifically listed with the non-standard CONUS per diem rates. If neither the city nor the county is listed on the per diem listing, it is considered a standard CONUS designation.

67 When is a traveler eligible for per diem or travel allowances?

A traveler is eligible for per diem or travel allowances when three conditions are met:

The employee performs official travel away from his/her official station, or other areas defined by the agency.

The employee incurs an authorized expense while performing official travel.

The employee is in a travel status for more than 12 hours.

68 For purposes of per diem, when does TDY travel begin and end?

Travel begins when the traveler departs from home, office, or any other authorized point and ends when the traveler returns to that point (FTR section 301-11.9).

In CBCA 2249-TRAV, In the Matter of Roger Chalonec (March 2, 2011), an employee of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation traveled round-trip from his home in Port Tobacco, Maryland, to Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, in one day on official business. Chalonec left his home at 7:15 a.m. and drove about 62 miles to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where he parked in a garage. He returned to the parking garage at 6:58 p.m. the same day and drove home, arriving at 8:15 p.m.

Under FTR 301.11-1, a federal employee is eligible for per diem allowance when he/she:

Performs official travel away from the official station or other areas defined by the agency

Incurs per diem expenses while performing official travel

Spends at least 12 hours in travel status.

Chalonec submitted a claim for per diem reimbursement, having spent about 13 hours in travel status. The agency rejected his claim; it had deducted Chalonec’s normal commuting time from the time spent in travel status, reducing his time in travel status to 11 hours. Chalonec asked the CBCA to review his agency’s decision.

The CBCA found that the agency had acted incorrectly in deducting commuting time from the time spent in travel status. FTR 301-11.9 provides that per diem is calculated from the time an employee departs his or her “home, office, or other authorized point” and ends when the employee returns to his or her home, office, or other authorized point. Under FTR 301-11.10, the employee must record the dates that he or she departs from, and arrives at, the home, office, or authorized point. If the travel occurs within one day, the employee must note that fact on the travel claim.

The CBCA did not find any requirement that an agency deduct commuting time from the calculation of time spent in travel status. Instead, Chalonec had acted in accordance with the FTR by calculating his per diem between the times he left and returned home. The CBCA granted his per diem request.

69 When is travel time considered hours of work?

Compensatory time for travel that includes overtime for hours of work while in a travel status is governed by the rules promulgated by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and is a human resources (HR) matter. For example, certain travel time may be creditable as hours of work under the overtime pay provisions in 5 CFR 550.112(g) or 551.422; the rules on travel hours of work depend on whether an employee is covered by or exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). For FLSA-exempt employees, the crediting of travel time as hours of work is governed under Title 5 rules, in particular, 5 U.S.C. 5542(b)(2) and 5544(a)(3) and 5 CFR 550.112(g) and (j). For FLSA-covered employees, travel time is credited if it is qualifying hours of work under either the Title 5 rules or OPM’s FLSA regulations, in particular, 5 CFR 551.401(h) and 551.422. The traveler should contact the agency HR or travel manager to discuss his/her particular situation.

In the case of GSBCA 15326-TRAV, In the Matter of Edward L. Petersen (August 8, 2000), a civilian employee of the Department of the Navy in Hansville, Washington, was issued travel orders for temporary duty in Kings Bay, Georgia. Petersen returned from the assignment outside normal work hours. In addition, his flight was delayed.

As a result, the total time Petersen spent returning to his permanent duty station was substantially longer than he had expected. He submitted a claim for 16 hours of overtime, reflecting the extra time he spent returning from his TDY assignment. The Navy denied the claim. Petersen appealed to the GSBCA.

The board rejected his appeal. It emphasized that any overtime worked by an employee at a TDY assignment cannot qualify as a travel expense. In addition, any dispute regarding the amount of compensation should be submitted to OPM.

70 Is per diem based on a traveler’s PDS or official residence?

In some cases a traveler’s PDS is not the same as the traveler’s actual residence. For example, say a traveler’s PDS is Cincinnati, Ohio, but his official residence is Chicago, Illinois, approximately 300 miles away. The traveler commutes daily at his expense from a leased apartment in Cincinnati to his PDS and on weekends to his Chicago residence. If the traveler is sent to Chicago for official business, is his per diem based on departing from Cincinnati or Chicago with a reduced per diem?

FTR section 301-70.200 requires the agency to have established policies and procedures governing when it will pay a reduced per diem. In accordance with FTR section 302-11.100, a traveler’s residence is defined as the “one residence from which you regularly commute to and from work on a daily basis.” Therefore, the traveler’s official travel should be considered from Cincinnati to Chicago in accordance with FTR section 301-11.1 and 300-3.1 unless the agency authorizes a different departure point.

Moreover, administrative mistakes regarding an employee’s official duty station cannot serve as the basis for authorizing or calculating per diem. Mistakes do not entitle travelers to reimbursement if the FTR provides otherwise. For example, in GSBCA-15264-TRAV, In the Matter of Kenneth E. Billings (May 30, 2000), an employee of the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) lived and worked in Staunton, Ilinois. His personnel file, however, indicated that his official duty station was Escanaba, Michigan.

NCUA had improperly listed Billings and several other employees as falsely working at various locations to circumvent competitive hiring procedures. A review by OPM discovered the prohibited practices.

NCUA ultimately suspended and demoted several employees involved. Despite knowing of the incorrect designation of his permanent duty station, Billings filed a claim for nearly $20,000 in per diem expenses. He argued that regardless of whether he actually worked or lived in Michigan, that is what was recorded as his official work station on his Standard Form (SF) 50. Therefore, his actual work station in Staunton should be considered a long-term TDY assignment and he should be entitled to two years of per diem for lodging, meals, and mileage expenses. NCUA rejected his argument. Billings appealed to the GSBCA, which was no more understanding.

The board rejected his argument that Escanaba must be considered his permanent work station simply because it was designated on his SF 50. A mistake, due to either administrative error or fraud, cannot serve as the basis for authorizing per diem. The purpose of per diem is to reimburse employees for meals and lodging while away from their homes. Billings had worked and lived in Staunton during the entire time he was employed by NCUA. Except for the improper listing of his official work station, Billings would have no claim to per diem.

The board emphasized that NCUA could not blindly ignore the actual facts of Billings’ claim because a government form indicated an opposite conclusion. Permitting reimbursement under such conditions would violate both the letter and spirit of the FTR.

71 Is a traveler required to record departure and arrival dates and times on a travel claim?

A traveler must record the date of departure from, and arrival at, the official station or any other place where travel begins or ends. This same information must be shown for points where the traveler performs TDY or for a stopover or official rest stop location when the arrival or departure affects the per diem allowance or other travel expenses. The traveler should also show the dates for other points visited. Departure and arrival times do not have to be recorded, but the traveler must annotate the travel claim indicating when travel is more than 12 hours but not exceeding 24 hours.

72 If an agency authorizes travelers to depart one day before or after a conference, can it deny reimbursement for expenses incurred for the extra travel day?

FTR section 301.2.2 states in part that an “agency may pay only those expenses essential to the transaction of official business.” It is reasonable to assume that the extra day authorized is for the traveler’s personal convenience and that the traveler must take appropriate action to ensure that per diem will not be paid prior to finalizing the travel authorization. The agency must deny reimbursement for an extra day of per diem when the extra day is not related to government business.

In GSBCA 14956, In the Matter of Joseph K. Dunleavy (June 18, 1999), an employee of the state of New Jersey was authorized to travel to New Mexico to serve as team leader for an environmental compliance assessment survey for the New Mexico National Guard. His agency was responsible for arranging his travel, but his expenses were to be paid by the Department of Defense (DoD).

The survey was scheduled to begin in Santa Fe on July 6 and conclude on July 10. Dunleavy arrived in Albuquerque early, on July 2, and drove to Santa Fe the same day. He returned to New Jersey on July 10. Upon his return, Dunleavy sought per diem reimbursement for July 2 through July 10. DoD refused to reimburse him for July 2 through 5 and instead authorized payment for only July 6 through 10. DoD claimed that it was not necessary for Dunleavy to arrive four days before his assignment started. Dunleavy appealed to the GSBCA.

There was a discrepancy between Dunleavy and his state agency over the events leading to his early departure. According to Dunleavy, he asked his agency to advise him on the costs and availability of flights to Santa Fe arriving on July 5 and departing on July 10. The agency informed him that no flights were available for those days and that he should therefore consider flying to an alternate city.

Dunleavy stated that he called a friend in New Mexico who told him that he should fly into Albuquerque and then drive an hour to Santa Fe. He asked his agency to purchase a ticket to Albuquerque. His agency advised him that no flight was available at government rates for the days in question—the cheapest roundtrip fare was $1,530. The agency informed him that the only possible reservation it could make was for an arrival on July 2. Dunleavy agreed.

In contrast to Dunleavy’s account, his agency claimed that he originally requested two round-trip tickets to Santa Fe at government rates with a departure date of July 5 and a return date of July 11, without first requesting advice on costs. DoD’s commercial travel office (CTO) informed the state agency that all government rate flights into Santa Fe for the dates requested were booked and that only commercial seats costing over $600 were available.

According to the state travel agent, Dunleavy directed her to purchase the commercial tickets. She explained to him that she could not approve the purchase since there was space available at a government rate of $252 for flights to Albuquerque, which was only 59 miles from Santa Fe. The travel agent said that Dunleavy refused to accept a flight to the alternate city. He instead requested that she check for available flights to Santa Fe at the government rate for earlier arrival dates. After an exhaustive search over several days, the agent found no available flights.

The agent advised Dunleavy that she would not purchase commercial tickets for a flight into Santa Fe on July 5 without confirmation from his program manager. Dunleavy made no attempt to gain approval for an earlier trip from his supervisor; instead, he called the state travel agent after several days and instructed her to book a flight to Albuquerque for July 2. The travel administrator made the arrangements.

GSBCA agreed with DoD’s refusal to reimburse Dunleavy per diem for July 2 through July 5. Although the facts surrounding his early departure were disputed, it was Dunleavy’s responsibility to provide sufficient evidence that the reason for his early departure was flight availability. Dunleavy, however, failed to provide the board with any documentation that flights to Albuquerque were booked for July 6.

As a result, the board had no choice but to accept the facts presented by his agency. According to those facts, Dunleavy’s arrival on July 2 was not “essential for the transaction of official business” and therefore was not compensable since he could have flown to Albuquerque on July 5.

73 What are the per diem entitlements for travel less than 12 hours?

None. Travelers must be in a travel status for more than 12 hours to be paid per diem. Travelers cannot circumvent this requirement by taking a longer route to an assignment, even if done inadvertently.

In GSBCA 15285-TRAV, In the Matter of Edgardo L. Delgado (January 9, 2001), an employee of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, was authorized to travel between his permanent duty station and Shawnee, Oklahoma. Delgado departed his home in Tulsa at 5:30 a.m. and drove to Shawnee. Since he was uncertain of the best route to Shawnee from his house, he first drove to his office, without stopping, and then proceeded to Shawnee. He returned home at 5:33 p.m. the same day, slightly more than 12 hours later.

After completing the assignment, Delgado submitted a voucher for mileage reimbursement. He claimed a roundtrip total of 261 miles. In addition, he requested reimbursement for M&IE. FSA refused to reimburse him the total mileage amount or M&IE because he did not take the most direct route. FSA stated that by traveling to his office first, he added unnecessary mileage and time to the trip.

More than 120 miles of his submitted mileage total represented a non-reimbursable commuting distance. In addition, if he had proceeded directly to Shawnee from his home, the total trip time would have been less than 12 hours since he could have departed in the morning at 5:41 a.m. and would have returned at 4:55 p.m. The agency emphasized that employees are eligible for M&IE reimbursement only if they are in travel status for more than 12 hours.

Delgado appealed to the GSBCA, which rejected the appeal. The board noted that the FTR is clear that employees may be reimbursed only when they take the most direct route to an assignment. In this case, Delgado nearly doubled the length of his trip by driving past his office first. Also, the circuitous route added nearly 45 minutes to the trip. An agency should not be obligated to pay for a travel expense that would not have otherwise occurred if an employee had chosen the shortest way to an assignment.

74 What if the travel is more than 12 hours but less than 24 hours?

For travel between 12 and 24 hours, the allowance is 75 percent of the applicable M&IE rate. If overnight lodging is required, reimbursement will cover actual lodging costs not to exceed the maximum lodging rate for the TDY location.

75 What if the travel is 24 hours or more?

For the day of departure, the traveler will receive 75 percent of the applicable M&IE rate; for full days, the traveler will receive 100 percent of the applicable M&IE rate; and on the last day, the traveler will receive 75 percent of the applicable M&IE rate.

76 What are the types of reimbursable per diem expense methods?

The following methods are used to reimburse per diem expenses:

Lodging plus – The per diem allowance for each travel day is established on the basis of the actual amount the traveler pays for lodging, plus an allowance for M&IE, the total of which does not exceed the applicable maximum per diem rate for the location.

Actual expense reimbursement – Payment of authorized actual expenses incurred, up to the limit prescribed by the Administrator of GSA or agency, as appropriate. Entitlement to reimbursement is contingent upon entitlement to per diem and is subject to the same definitions and rules governing per diem.

Reduced per diem or flat rate – A reduced per diem rate authorized by an agency when there are known reductions in lodging and meal costs or when subsistence costs can be determined in advance and are lower than the prescribed per diem rate.

Conference allowance – A predetermined maximum allowance of up to 25 percent greater than the applicable locality lodging portion of the per diem rate. Under this reimbursement method, travelers are reimbursed the actual amount incurred for lodging up to the conference lodging allowance.

77 When can a traveler claim actual expense reimbursement instead of the standard per diem rate?

If a traveler’s approved per diem is insufficient, the traveler may request reimbursement for actual expenses for either lodging or meals or both. Specific authorization or prior approval is required for payment of actual expenses in accordance with FTR section 301-2.5(j). However, agency policy may allow an “after-the-fact” approval in accordance with FTR section 301-11.302.

A traveler may request actual expense reimbursement in advance when:

Lodging or meals are procured at a prearranged place such as a hotel where a meeting, conference, or training session is held

Costs have escalated because of special events (e.g., missile launching periods, sporting events, World’s Fair, conventions, natural or manmade disasters); lodging and meal expenses within prescribed allowances cannot be obtained nearby; and costs to commute to and from the nearby location consume most or all of the savings achieved from occupying less expensive lodging

The TDY location is subject to a presidentially declared disaster and the agency has issued a blanket actual expense authorization for the affected location

The agency deems it appropriate based on mission requirements or for any other reason, including post-travel approval when necessary and authorized.

78 Is per diem based on the TDY or lodging location?

Per diem is determined based on the traveler’s TDY location and not the traveler’s lodging location. Per diem rates are established for the TDY location. The traveler may sleep anywhere but must perform TDY at a specific location.

In GSBCA 13684-TRAV, In the Matter of Mark Chapman (April 9, 1997), a civilian employee of DoD in California was authorized for a TDY assignment in Patuxent River, Maryland. His travel orders provided that he would fly from San Diego to Washington, D.C., and then drive to Patuxent River.

Chapman’s travel office informed him that he could stay in Washington on arriving and proceed to Patuxent River the next morning. Since his TDY was scheduled to conclude on a Friday, the office also advised him that he could stay in Washington on Saturday and Sunday nights before returning to San Diego on Monday morning.

Chapman followed that advice. Upon his return, he submitted a voucher for his expenses. DoD refused to reimburse him for the full costs of the three hotel nights in Washington, limiting reimbursement for those nights to the cost of a hotel in Patuxent River. Chapman appealed to the GSBCA.

The board rejected his appeal, noting that the JTR provides that employees must obtain lodging at the TDY location. If the employee chooses to stay at a hotel away from that location because of a personal preference or convenience, the allowable per diem is limited to the maximum per diem rate for the TDY location.

Chapman explained his stay in Washington as a way to avoid traffic and driving after a long flight. Because these reasons benefited Chapman rather than DoD, his stay must be considered for his personal convenience. Although his travel office advised him that he could stay over in Washington, that advice was contrary to the JTR and therefore could not be the basis for reimbursement.

79 How is per diem calculated if travel is interrupted because of illness, incapacitation, or hospitalization?

FTR section 301-70.501 allows the continuance of per diem “when an employee interrupts a travel assignment because of an incapacitating illness or injury.” FTR section 301-70.502 prohibits reimbursement if “confinement in a hospital or medical facility that is within the proximity of the official station or that is the same one the employee would have been admitted to if the illness or injury had occurred while at the official station and/or the government provides or reimburses the employee for hospitalization under any federal statute (including hospitalization in a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center or military hospital) other than 5 U.S.C. 8901-8913 (Federal Employees Health Benefits Program).”

In GSBCA 14523-TRAV, In the Matter of Harold Lee (June 16, 1998), an employee of the Department of Transportation (DOT) suffered an incapacitating illness that required hospitalization while he was on TDY. Lee’s health insurance under the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services (CHAMPUS) covered his hospitalization. DOT subsequently asked the GSBCA to rule on whether Lee was entitled to per diem reimbursement for the hospitalization period. The board determined that the FTR and the JTR specifically prohibit reimbursement for per diem expenses when the employee “receives hospitalization (or is reimbursed for hospital expenses) under any federal statute … other than 5 U.S.C. 8901-8913.” Since Lee received his hospitalization under health insurance obtained under CHAMPUS, not the Federal Employees Health Benefits Progam, he was not entitled to per diem reimbursement.

Special Needs

Special needs are physical characteristics of a traveler that are not necessarily defined as a disability. Such physical characteristics could include, for example, the weight or height of the traveler. The government’s general policy is to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee with a special need by paying for additional travel expenses incurred.

80 Under what conditions will an agency pay additional travel expenses to accommodate a special need?

An agency will pay additional travel expenses that are incurred to accommodate a special physical need that is either clearly visible and discernible or is substantiated in writing by a competent medical authority.

81 What additional travel expenses may an agency pay to accommodate a special need?

An agency’s approving official may pay any expenses deemed necessary to accommodate an employee with a special need, including (but not limited to):

Transportation and per diem expenses incurred by a family member or other attendant who must travel with the federal employee to make the trip possible

Specialized transportation to, from, or at the TDY duty location

Specialized services provided by a common carrier to accommodate the special need

Costs for handling baggage that are a direct result of the special need

Renting or transporting a wheelchair

Other than coach-class accommodations to accommodate the special need, under FTR Subpart ? of Part 301-10 (Common Carrier Transportation)

Services of an attendant, when necessary, to accommodate the special need. (For limits on the amount that may be paid to an attendant, other than travel expenses, see 5 U.S.C. 3102 and guidance at http://www.opm.gov/disability/mngr_6-01-B.asp.)

Interviewee Travel

To recruit highly qualified individuals, agencies may pay pre-employment interview travel expenses. The interviewee will be entitled to expenses as if he/she were a government employee traveling on official business. Pre-employment interview expenses include travel to attend confirmation hearings. Pre-employment travel expenses may not be authorized to offset or defray other expenses that are not allowable for an interviewee.

Prior to paying pre-employment travel expenses, agencies it must establish policies and procedures governing:

When pre-employment interview travel expenses will be paid, including the criteria for determining which individuals or positions qualify for payment

Who will determine, in each individual case, that a person qualifies for pre-employment interview travel expenses

Who will determine what expenses will be paid for each individual interviewee.

Agencies must also:

Provide interviewees with a list of FEMA-approved accommodations in the vicinity of the interview and encourage them to stay in an approved accommodation

Inform the interviewee that he/she is responsible for excess costs and any additional expenses that he/she incurs for personal preference or convenience

Inform the interviewee that the government will not pay for excess costs resulting from circuitous routes, delays, or luxury accommodations or services unnecessary or unjustified in the performance of official business

Assist the interviewee in preparing the travel claim

Provide the interviewee with instructions on how to submit the claim

Inform the interviewee that he/she may be subject to criminal penalties if he/she knowingly presents a false, fictitious, or fraudulent travel claim (see 18 U.S.C. 287 and 1001).

Not having or following established policies and procedures could lead to misunderstandings between the agency and interviewee, and possibly denial of travel expenses for the interviewee. For example, in CBCA 1620-TRAV, In the Matter of Westley K. Collins (February 24, 2010), a federal employee of the Department of Energy in Oregon applied for a position with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Renton, Washington. The FAA called Collins to set up an interview. What happened next was the subject of a dispute between the two parties.

The FAA contended that it initially proposed to interview Collins by phone, but Collins responded that he would be in the area visiting a friend and would prefer a face-to-face interview. The FAA then set up an in-person interview. Collins maintained that the option of a telephone interview never came up, and he was instead scheduled for an in-person interview. He said that he was willing to travel to Renton and arranged to stay with a friend to minimize the expense to the agency. Both parties agreed that they did not discuss the reimbursement of Collins’ travel expenses.

Collins was interviewed for the position on November 4, 2008. He was informed by letter dated November 15, 2008, that he had not been selected for the position. Collins responded by letter, asking, among other things, about paperwork to submit a travel claim. He never received a response.

On April 15, 2009, Collins wrote another letter to the interviewer asking how to file his travel expense claim. The FAA responded in an April 23, 2009, letter, stating that travel expenses would not be paid. The FAA noted that it had not been aware that Collins had expected to be reimbursed for the in-person interview, and it had never agreed to pay his travel costs. Additionally, the FAA noted that it believed that it was simply accommodating Collins’ preference in holding the interview in person. The agency said that if Collins had broached the subject of repayment when they were setting up the interview, a telephone interview would have arranged instead.

Collins appealed to the CBCA.

The FAA Travel Policy, the agency’s governing travel regulation, provides that the FAA may, but is not required to, authorize an allowance for pre-employment interview expenses when it has determined that reimbursement will facilitate the recruitment of highly qualified individuals (FAATP sections 301-32.1 to 301-21.3). The guidance provides that when travel expenses are authorized, the interviewee should not purchase his/her own ticket; instead, the interviewing office will either provide a ticket or permit the interviewee to arrange travel through the FAA’s travel management system (FAATP 302-32.203). In this case, Collins purchased his own ticket, an indication that reimbursement was not authorized.

The FAA Travel Policy is consistent with the FTR, which provides guidance on the payment of pre-employment interview travel expenses at section 301-75. The FTR provides that a federal agency may pay pre-employment interview travel expenses if it determines that it is in the best interest of the government to do so (FTR section 301-75.2). FTR section 301-75.3 specifies that federal agencies must establish policies and procedures governing:

When to pay pre-employment interview travel expenses, including the criteria for determining which individuals or positions qualify for payment of such expenses

Who will determine, in each individual case, that a person qualifies for pre-employment interview travel expenses

Who will determine what expenses will be paid for each individual interviewee.

Collins argued that because he is already a federal employee, albeit with another agency, his interview should not have been treated as a “pre-employment” interview. The CBCA disagreed, stating that “since Mr. Collins was not already employed by the FAA, his interview was properly categorized as a pre-employment interview.”

Ultimately, the CBCA supported the FAA’s decision not to reimburse Collins’ travel expenses, noting that “the FAA simply did not authorize reimbursement of Mr. Collins’ travel expenses. There is no statute or regulation that required that it do so. Thus the claim was properly denied.”

82 May employees be reimbursed for traveling to interview with another agency if they are seeking a new position as a result of a reduction in force?

Reimbursement is at the discretion of the employee’s current agency. Over the past several years, downsizing has become a way of life for federal employees. Some casualties of reduction in force (RIF) actions have been absorbed into new positions with new agencies.

Individuals who have found different positions within the government, however, have often done so at significant personal costs, specifically time and travel for interviews. In a GSBCA decision, one employee learned when reimbursement is permissible.

In GSBCA 14312-TRAV, In the Matter of Sandra L. Roberts (November 10, 1998), after receiving a RIF notice, Roberts, a civilian employee of the Defense Finance Accounting Service (DFAS) in Detroit, Michigan, applied for a position with the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, D.C. As part of the application process, Roberts traveled to Washington, at the request of DOJ, for an interview. DOJ informed Roberts that it would not pay for her travel expenses, so Roberts requested that DFAS reimburse the costs. She argued that the expenses were similar to the relocation costs that were normally paid by DFAS.

DFAS refused to reimburse her. It noted that she had not been issued travel orders for her interview. Moreover, she should seek reimbursement from DOJ since pre-employment interview travel is a “discretionary entitlement granted by the interviewing agency.” Roberts appealed to the GSBCA.

The board agreed with DFAS’s decision. It noted that section 5706(b) of Title 5 of the U.S. Code permits, but does not require, agencies to reimburse interviewees for pre-employment travel expenses. According to the board, “it was within the complete discretion of DFAS to deny those expenses.”

The board was not persuaded by Roberts’ comparison of the travel costs to relocation expenses. In addition, it found no statutory authority to support Roberts’ argument that her employing agency (DFAS) rather than the interviewing agency (DOJ) should be responsible for interview travel costs.

Invitational Travel

Invitational travel is authorized travel by non-federal government employees who are acting in a capacity directly related to or in connection with official government activities.

83 What are the rules for invitational travel reimbursement?

Reimbursement for travel by non-federal government employees is subject to the same regulations as travel by federal employees. Invitational travelers should use the centrally billed account for the purchase of common carrier tickets and should not be provided an advance of funds.

84 Can an employee accept monies from a non-federal source for invitational travel?

No. Under 31 U.S.C. 1353, employees and their spouses are prohibited from accepting cash or checks made payable to the employee or spouse from a non-federal source for travel or attendance at meetings or similar functions.

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