The government may pay only those expenses essential to the transaction of official business. Individuals must be in a travel status as defined in the Per Diem section of Part IV, Before You Travel, to be entitled to allowances and expenses. While performing official travel, a federal employee is allowed to incur certain travel and travel-related expenses.
A contractor-issued government travel charge card is the government’s preferred method of paying travel expenses. To assist cardholders on how to use the travel charge card responsibly, this part provides information on cardholder responsibilities, the do’s and don’ts of using the travel charge card, and actions the agency may take against the cardholder for misuse or abuse of the travel charge card.
The role of an agency/organization program coordinator (A/OPC) is important. The A/OPC manages the agency’s travel charge card program and authorized cardholders. A/OPC responsibilities, helpful hints for reducing delinquency, and best practices for managing both the agency’s travel charge card program and cardholders are also provided in this part.
Once the traveler has been directed to travel, has obtained authorization to travel, and is on official travel, the traveler may then incur travel and travel-related expenses. The government may pay only those expenses that are essential to the transaction of official business. This part also provides information on allowable expenses for transportation, lodging, meals, and incidentals.
For expenses that are not mentioned, consult the FTR and your agency travel manager for guidance.
The Travel and Transportation Reform Act (TTRA) of 1998 mandates that federal employees use the government contractor-issued travel charge card for all payments of expenses related to official government travel unless an exemption has been granted in accordance with the FTR. The purposes of the government-wide travel charge card program are to: (1) provide commercial charge cards and associated services in support of official domestic and international federal government travel and travel-related expenses; (2) streamline the travel process by allowing employees to purchase negotiated tickets and book hotels and rental cars through their travel management center and commercial travel office; (3) improve government operations by simplifying the financial process; and (4) provide a platform for improving government operations and accountability.
The A/OPC is the individual responsible for managing and overseeing the travel charge card program within each agency. That individual serves as the liaison with the travel charge card contractor or issuing bank, management, and agency contacts such as the finance office and transaction dispute office.
The GSA SmartPay2 Master Contract lists the A/OPC’s responsibilities, which include:
Maintain an up-to-date list of account names, account numbers, addresses, emails, and phone numbers of all current cardholders and accounts
Provide to the issuing bank any changes in the agency’s organizational structure that may affect invoice/report distribution
Review and evaluate the bank’s technical and administrative task order performance and compliance
Resolve technical and operational problems between the bank and cardholders as required
Take appropriate action regarding delinquent accounts and report to internal investigative units and the GSA contracting officer any observed violations of applicable executive orders, laws, or regulations
Participate in training conferences and train cardholders
Ensure that cardholders use the charge card correctly
Monitor account activity and manage delinquencies
Ensure that appropriate steps are taken to mitigate suspension or cancellation actions
Develop agency program procedures and policies as necessary.
With the support of the agency head, the A/OPC should:
Train cardholders in accordance with Appendix B on the proper use of the travel charge card, including ethics training. Develop a traveler hotline to respond to cardholder questions.
Develop and maintain a travel-specific website for the agency.
Publish answers to frequently asked questions related to travel on the agency website.
Create an informational newsletter.
Send periodic reminders to cardholders on agency travel policies and procedures.
Hold orientation sessions with new cardholders.
Provide cardholder training on how to fill out a proper travel claim/voucher.
Remind cardholders who are on extended travel to submit interim travel claims/vouchers to ensure timely receipt of reimbursement.
Notify cardholders that their obligation to pay their respective bank by the billing due date is not contingent upon receipt of a travel reimbursement from the agency/organization.
Use a statement insert/statement message provided by the bank to convey information to cardholders.
Provide the GSA SmartPay2 card-sized brochure, Helpful Hints for Travel Card Use.
Send an annual letter from your agency director reminding cardholders of their responsibilities.
Provide a travel charge card training video for cardholders.
A/OPCs should follow these best practices:
Use online tools provided by the banks, GSA, and your agency.
Email updates to A/OPCs at all levels regarding program changes.
Review reports regularly and track trends in delinquency rates and charge-offs/write-offs.
Use exception reports to detect misuse of the travel charge card or unusual spending patterns.
Use ad hoc reporting tools provided by your bank to customize or develop your own agency reports.
Eliminate manual calculations by developing ad hoc reports that can be generated as needed.
Ensure that cardholder information is properly secured and confidentially maintained in accordance with your agency’s security and privacy regulations as well as with the Privacy Act. Create a monthly newsletter/memorandum to reinforce agency travel charge cardholder policies for misuse or account delinquency.
Develop and implement an agency-established penalty guide with your agency’s human resources office outlining appropriate disciplinary action for undisputed delinquencies and non-official use of the travel charge card by employees.
An A/OPC can take several preventive actions to help manage and minimize risk in the agency’s charge card program. These include:
Reviewing the credit limits of cardholders to determine what is appropriate based on the frequency of travel
Deactivating cards when not in use
Establishing ATM withdrawal limits
Monitoring delinquency and unauthorized charges more effectively by decreasing the number of days for suspension, cancellation, or late fees
Blocking certain merchant category codes to prevent unauthorized use.
Suspending or canceling a card for inappropriate use or failing to pay the bank on time
Implementing salary offset
Ensuring the use of split disbursement
Reviewing accounts periodically to ensure that all unused travel charge cards are closed (including accounts for employees who have left the agency)
Reporting delinquency and misuse/abuse to the appropriate officials.
Cardholders should be aware that there is a difference between what we generally know as a credit card, which is most likely what you use personally, and a charge card. Unlike a credit card, the government charge card does not extend credit. A charge card requires payment in full upon receipt of the bill.
The cardholder’s responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
Understanding individual agency/organization policies and procedures as they relate to official federal government travel
Paying all charges and fees associated with the individually billed account (IBA) travel charge card in full by the billing due date (whether or not the cardholder has been reimbursed by the agency)
Complying with the terms and conditions of the cardholder account agreement that is issued with the travel charge card by the bank.
Public Law 109-115 requires agencies to perform a creditworthiness evaluation prior to issuing a travel charge card to first-time applicants. OMB Circular A-123, Appendix B, requires training and refresher training on travel card management for all participants in the government charge card program. This includes cardholders, A/OPCs, approving officials, and other accountable/billing officials.
No. The government travel charge card may not be used for personal travel. Government contract fares may not be used for any personal leg of the trip or to calculate a difference in fares for the personal travel.
The Administrator of General Services will exempt any payment, person, type, or class of payments, or type or class of personnel in any case in which—
It is in the best interest of the United States to do so
Payment through a travel charge card is impractical or imposes unreasonable burdens or costs on federal employees or federal agencies
The Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of Homeland Security requests an exemption for the members of the uniformed services.
The head of a federal agency or his/her designee may exempt any payment, person, type, or class of payments, or type or class of agency personnel if the exemption is determined to be necessary in the interest of the agency. The Administrator of General Services must be notified in writing within 30 days after granting the exemption, stating the reasons for the exemption.
The Administrator of General Services exempts the following from mandatory use of the government contractor-issued travel charge card:
Expenses incurred at a vendor that does not accept the government contractor–issued travel charge card
Meals (when use of the card is impractical, e.g., group meals, where the government contractor-issued travel charge card is not accepted)
Phone calls (when a government calling card is available for use in accordance with agency policy)
Employee who has an application pending for the travel charge card
Individuals traveling on invitational travel
Relocation allowances prescribed in 41 CFR Chapter 302, except en-route travel and househunting trip expenses
Employees who travel five times or fewer a year (although agencies have the discretion to issue a travel charge card to such employees).
Yes. A traveler may be reimbursed for fees for using an ATM and to obtain traveler’s checks, money orders, or certified checks. However, the reimbursement for transaction fees is applicable only to the government travel charge card and not to a traveler’s personal credit or charge card.
In CBCA 972-TRAV, In the Matter of Deborah E. Kenney (March 10, 2008), a civilian DoD employee traveled to Cotonou, Benin, for an initial conference planning meeting. Kenney’s travel orders specified that she was to obtain cash from an ATM using her government travel card. The conference coordinator further advised her that she would need to carry cash in new colored bills and that she should not use credit cards because credit card numbers are regularly stolen in Benin.
Kenney had a credit limit of $5,000 on her government charge card—and an unpaid balance of $4,448.93. She was unable to raise her credit limit before her trip, and she did not make a payment on her government card. Instead, Kenney took a $3,000 cash advance from her personal credit card.
The agency reimbursed Kenney for the $3,000 in cash, but not for a $90 transaction fee charged by her bank for the extension of credit. Upon review of the situation, the CBCA determined that the agency was correct in not reimbursing the $90 transaction fee.
Use of the government travel card is mandatory for all DoD personnel for expenses arising from official government travel, unless otherwise exempted, under DoD Financial Management Regulation section 0301 (Sept. 2000). The CBCA noted that DoD benefits from this policy through improved cash management practices and reduced administrative workloads. In addition, it receives rebates based upon usage from the company that issues the travel cards. To encourage government travelers to use the government-issued charge cards, the federal government reimburses administrative fees when government-sponsored cards are used.
The CBCA pointed out that Kenney could have asked for her travel authorization to be amended to exempt her from having to use the government travel card and authorize her to secure cash from her personal credit card. Had she done so, the transaction fee might have been a reimbursable transaction fee. Lacking the proper authorization, her claim could not be reimbursed.
Yes. FTR section 301-11.32 states that “your agency may reimburse you for an advance room deposit, when such a deposit is required by the lodging facility to secure a room reservation, prior to the beginning of your scheduled official travel. However, if you are reimbursed the advance room deposit, but fail to perform the scheduled official travel for reasons not acceptable to your agency, resulting in forfeit of the deposit, you are indebted to the government for that amount and must repay it in a manner prescribed by your agency.”
The GSA SmartPay2 master contract allows an option for non-DoD customer organizations to permit use of the travel charge card for local travel in accordance with agency policies and procedures. To assist agencies that intend to use the travel charge card for local travel, the Office of Charge Card Management (OCCM) has developed a local travel management plan template that includes items to consider when developing policies and procedures. The template will assist agencies in outlining implementation details and proper controls and oversight for use of the travel charge card for local travel. For more information, see GSA SmartPay Bulletin No. 14, (November 2, 2010), https://smartpay.gsa.gov/news/smart-bulletins.
An agency may authorize one or a combination of the following methods of payment:
Personal funds, including cash or personal charge card
Government transportation request (GTR), which is another method of procuring passenger transportation services in certain travel situations (managed by the agency travel manager).
No. A cardholder who uses his/her government travel charge card to pay for a co-worker’s lodging or dining expense cannot submit a voucher for that traveler’s expense. Such a transaction is viewed as a personal transaction between the cardholder and the co-worker; the cardholder would need to seek repayment from the co-worker. The cardholder is solely responsible for payment of expenses as reflected on his/her charge card statement and any liability that may occur if the co-worker does not reimburse the cardholder for the expenses since the cardholder will not be allowed to claim those expenses on his/her voucher. The cardholder may also be subject to disciplinary action if the agency determines such use to be “misuse.”
Intentional use of a government charge card for other than official government business constitutes misuse and, depending on the situation, may constitute fraud.
Examples of misuse/abuse include:
Use of the travel charge card for someone other than the specific cardholder
Use while not on official government travel
Use locally, if not on official government travel status under a travel order/authorization
Purchases from an unauthorized merchant
Excessive ATM withdrawals
Failure to pay undisputed amounts on time.
The consequences may include:
Travel charge card cancellation
Termination of employment
Tips for cardholders include:
Do use your government travel charge card to pay for official travel expenses.
Do obtain travel advances for official travel through an ATM if authorized by your agency.
Do track your expenses and keep receipts while on travel so you have accurate information for filing your travel claim.
Do file your travel claim within five days after you complete your trip or every 30 days if you are on continuous travel.
Do submit payment in full for each monthly bill.
Do follow your bank’s dispute process for incorrect charges.
Do call your bank’s customer service number if you have questions about your monthly bill.
Do be aware that misuse of the travel charge card can result in disciplinary actions by your agency.
Do be aware that failure to pay your bill in a timely manner can result in suspension or cancellation of your card.
Do return your travel charge card to your A/OPC to be destroyed if you leave your agency or retire.
Do immediately report your lost or stolen card to your A/OPC and the card-issuing bank.
Do destroy any lost or stolen cards that are recovered.
Do be aware of identity theft schemes attempting to gain access to financial information.
Don’t use your travel charge card for personal use.
Don’t obtain travel advances through the ATM that exceed your expected out-of-pocket expenditures for a trip.
Don’t allow your monthly bill to become overdue because this could result in suspension or cancellation of your card.
Don’t wait for receipt of your monthly billing statement to file your travel claim.
Don’t forget that the card is issued in your name and liability for payment is your responsibility.
Don’t write your personal identification number (PIN) on your card or carry your PIN in your wallet.
On January 15, 2009, OMB issued a revision to Appendix ? of OMB Circular A-123. The revision added a requirement to Section 4.8 that states in part that “where an official directs an erroneous purchase to be made by a cardholder or directs a cardholder to purchase items or services that are subsequently determined to be improper, the official who directed the purchase shall, in accordance with agency policy: (a) reimburse the government and (b) be subject to disciplinary action.”
The traveler should contact his/her A/OPC or agency official for further guidance. Otherwise, the traveler could be subject to the agency’s disciplinary action under FTR sections 301-51.6 and 301-51.7.
Under most circumstances, in the absence of appropriations and if the traveler is not an “excepted” employee, the traveler is no longer traveling on official business. Therefore, the traveler is prohibited from incurring any obligations and must return either before a lapse in appropriations or as soon as possible. However, if the agency has identified the traveler as an “excepted” employee and the traveler meets one of the stringent exceptions for incurring an obligation in the absence of agency appropriations (such as emergency travel for the protection of life and property), the traveler may continue to use the travel charge card.
Travelers should review their agency’s policy and procedures for a government-wide shutdown to determine whether or not they are an excepted employee and then follow agency procedures. Travelers should also contact their agency’s travel manager for further guidance.
The government may pay only those expenses that are essential to the transaction of official business to accomplish the travel mission. Administering the authorization and payment of travel expenses in accordance with the FTR and agency travel policy generally involves:
Limiting the authorization and payment of travel expenses to travel that is necessary to accomplish the traveler’s mission in the most economical and effective manner
Considering budget constraints, adherence to travel policies, and reasonableness of expenses
Considering alternatives, including teleconferencing, prior to authorizing travel.
The travel authorization is a record of vested travel entitlements. It provides a notice and record of the employee’s instructions and entitlements and may not be administratively altered after the fact to increase or decrease benefits in the absence of clear error. Therefore, travel orders, either written or verbal (since post-authorization may be approved after-the-fact travel), that are contrary to law or regulation cannot create a right to reimbursement where none exists.
For example, an employee was required to travel from Alabama to California on official travel to represent the agency on a technical panel and attend two scheduled meetings. The employee’s luggage did not arrive at the TDY destination. The employee contacted her supervisor and was provided verbal authorization to purchase toiletries and two dresses. However, when the employee submitted her voucher for the expenses as a miscellaneous expense, the claim was denied by Finance.
Unless the agency has specific provisions under its appropriations act or other legislation, it may not use appropriated funds to purchase toiletries and articles of personal clothing that may be retained for personal use. Such items are not considered essential for accomplishing official travel and are therefore considered an unauthorized expense.
FTR section 301-52.8 provides the authority for an approving official to disallow an expense. Also, disbursing and certifying officials assume the ultimate responsibility under 31 U.S.C. 3528 for the validity of the claim as stated in FTR section 301-71.203.
In CBCA 2120-TRAV, In the Matter of Brian T. Harris (Jan. 7, 2011), a civilian employee of the Department of the Navy was issued travel orders to attend a conference in Manchester, England. According to the employee, his baggage was lost for 48 hours. To ensure he was dressed in proper business attire for the conference, he purchased shoes, socks, pants, a shirt, and a tie, at a total cost of $248.21.
After receiving no reimbursement from the airline that lost his baggage, Harris filed a claim with the Navy for reimbursement under the Military Personnel and Civilian Employee Claims Act (31 U.S.C. 3721 (2006)). The Navy denied his claim. Harris appealed to the CBCA, asking the board to consider his claim for reimbursement.
Although the CBCA does not have jurisdiction to review claims under the Employee Claims Act, it considered whether Harris could be reimbursed under federal travel policy. Unfortunately for Harris, no provision in the FTR or JTR provides for reimbursement of costs to replace items lost during the course of travel.
The employee always has the option of bringing family members or other dependents on travel, but the government does not assume liability for the employee’s family or dependents. If the employee chooses to travel with family or dependents, the employee will be reimbursed as if the employee traveled alone.
However, if the employee travels with another employee who is a member of the employee’s immediate family and also is traveling on official business, the two employees will be treated as unrelated employees and each will receive reimbursement for transportation and subsistence.
Federal employees are normally expected to schedule official travel on business days, but exceptions may be made. For example, if an employee completes his/her TDY assignment late on a Friday afternoon, the travel regulations permit the employee to wait until Saturday to return rather than leave late on Friday evening. The employee, however, may not wait until the next official business day, for example, Monday, to travel.
In GSBCA 14920-TRAV, In the Matter of David L. Butcher (August 31, 1999), a civilian employee of the Department of the Navy in Washington, D.C., was issued travel orders for TDY in California. His TDY ended on Friday afternoon but his orders permitted him to remain in California through the weekend and return on Monday.
Upon his return, Butcher submitted a travel voucher for his hotel, meals, and rental car costs, including those for the weekend following completion of his TDY. Butcher was reimbursed for all of his expenses during his TDY, including the costs of a hotel for Friday evening. In addition, he was reimbursed for the majority of his meal and incidental costs for Saturday. He was not reimbursed for his Saturday and Sunday evening lodging expenses nor his meal and incidental expenses for Sunday and Monday morning.
The Defense Finance Accounting Service (DFAS) informed Butcher that his orders should not have authorized him to stay until Monday. It noted that the JTR requires employees to return no later than the day after completing a TDY, even if that day is a Saturday or Sunday. The agency explained that it normally catches these mistakes, but in this instance it failed to do so. While it believed he was entitled to reimbursement since his extended stay was the result of incorrect travel orders, the JTR precluded it from honoring that portion of his voucher.
Butcher appealed to the GSBCA. The board rejected his claim, noting that paragraph C1058-B.3 of the JTR prohibits employees from delaying their return from a TDY through a weekend. At best, if an employee completes the TDY late Friday afternoon, as in this case, the employee may return the following day. An agency is authorized to reimburse the employee for Friday evening lodging and meal expenses.
In addition, an agency may pay up to 75 percent of the employee’s meal and incidental expenses for Saturday. All other expenses are the responsibility of the employee. The board sympathized with Butcher’s circumstances. Although it recognized that his travel orders erroneously permitted him to stay through the weekend, his good-faith reliance on those orders did not provide him a basis for recovery.
Parking fees at an airport may not exceed the cost of a roundtrip taxi fare, even in the case of an emergency.
The traveler must exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on personal business (FTR section 301-2.3). Otherwise, the traveler will be responsible for expenses over the reimbursement limits established by the agency. The agency has discretion to determine whether or not the expense is excessive (FTR section 301-2.4) and may reimburse the traveler in accordance with FTR section 301-10.308, which states “Your agency may reimburse your parking fee as an allowable transportation expense not to exceed the cost of taxi fare to/from the terminal.”
In GSBCA 13965-TRAV, In the Matter of Arthur A. Johnson (February 26, 1997), a civilian employee of the Coast Guard in Alexandria, Virginia, was authorized to attend a conference in Hawaii. He was scheduled to depart from Ronald Reagan Airport.
Due to a major blizzard, Johnson was unable to take a taxi to the airport. Instead, he drove his own car and parked it at the airport. The total parking cost was $114.60. He submitted a voucher for the expense.
The Coast Guard limited reimbursement to $41.40, the cost of a round-trip taxi fare. Johnson appealed to the GSBCA, arguing that an exception to the FTR limits should be made in an emergency. The board disagreed, concluding that no exceptions exist under the FTR.
Yes. Under certain circumstances, the inability to convert foreign currency back to U.S. dollars qualifies as a reimbursable expense.
In GSBCA-15242-TRAV, In the Matter of Lemuel E. Mauldin, III (March 27, 2000), an employee of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was on official travel to the Ukraine and Russia. NASA gave Mauldin a travel advance of $3,140, which he deposited into his checking account. He withdrew approximately $2,000 of the advance in U.S. currency to take with him. He converted $440 into Ukrainian currency since he anticipated using approximately $90 worth of Ukrainian currency to pay a charge for excess baggage.
Mauldin knew from prior experience that he would be required to pay for excess baggage with local currency since credit cards would not be accepted. Upon his departure, Mauldin was not charged for excess baggage. As a result, he did not spend the Ukrainian currency. He attempted to convert it back to U.S. dollars at the airport; however, no banks were available.
Mauldin carried the currency to his next destination, Russia, where he made several unsuccessful attempts to convert the currency. Upon arrival back in the United States, he made three more attempts to convert the currency, but no banks would accept it. Mauldin submitted a travel voucher shortly after his return. He included the currency with his voucher, noting that the currency was attached. He requested reimbursement of $5,992.46, including $90 for the Ukrainian currency.
NASA reimbursed Mauldin all his expenses except the $90 foreign currency. The agency determined it was an “exchange loss” and claimed it returned the Ukrainian currency. Mauldin denied that the foreign currency was returned and requested an adjudication.
NASA denied Mauldin’s appeal on two grounds: (1) reimbursement was properly disallowed as an exchange loss and (2) the employee failed to safeguard his travel advance, i.e., he had lost the money after it was returned. Mauldin appealed to the GSBCA.
The board disagreed with NASA’s decision. It noted that the $90 should not be considered an exchange loss. An exchange loss has traditionally been defined as the “loss an employee sustains in converting foreign currency into U.S. dollars by reason of variation in the basic value of the dollar during the time the employee held the currency.” In this situation, Mauldin was not trying to recover the variation in value due to fluctuation in currency but instead was seeking reimbursement for holding unconverted foreign currency.
The board also determined that Mauldin had not lost the Ukrainian currency. In its opinion, NASA had never returned the money to him. Because the money was lost while in the custody and control of the government, its loss should be borne by the government.
The board cited a 1981 Comptroller General decision (B-200404, February 12, 1981) that held that once an employee relinquishes dominion and control of a travel advance to the government, those funds again become public funds. Consequently, the government is responsible for the money.
Travelers are entitled to reimbursement expenses for overnight sleeping facilities and certain service charges, including room taxes, when such charges are not included in the room rate.
Travelers should always stay in a “fire safe” facility. This is a facility that meets the fire safety requirements of the Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act of 1990 as amended (5 U.S.C. 5707a).
When selecting a commercial lodging facility, first consideration must be given to government agreement programs such as FedRooms, as stated in FTR section 301-11.11.
To further assist agencies and travelers with lodging requirements, this section outlines certain lodging reimbursement entitlements and how those entitlements are determined.
FedRooms is a GSA program that provides hotel rooms for federal government travelers while on official business. It is one of GSA’s government-wide solutions intended to enable employees to manage their travel efficiently and effectively while accomplishing their missions. FedRooms leverages the government’s buying power to offer safe, economical, and compliant hotel lodging at per diem or better rates at hotels globally. The FedRooms rate includes no early checkout fees or hidden fees. By encouraging the use of FedRooms properties and rates, agencies can ensure FTR compliance and reduce their travel spending while still meeting their missions.
Yes. Agency lodging agreement programs provides leverage for government buying power. When an agency negotiates a lodging rate at specific lodging facilities that saves the government funds, travelers are required to follow agency policy. If not, they may be subject to absorbing any costs above the government-agreed rate.
In GSBCA 16384-TRAV, In the Matter of Joel Butcher (September 30, 2004), the Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Heber, Utah, hired several new employees in 2003. Butcher, along with other new employees, was issued blanket travel authorization to attend a new employee orientation in Salt Lake City, Utah, on February 12–14.
The authorization was issued to the employees as a group along with instructions on how to secure lodgings. Those instructions noted that employees were to make arrangements at one of the three hotels USDA had contracted with for the event before February 1. The agency emphasized that that it had procured a special lodging rate with these vendors.
Apparently, Butcher was not informed that he was required to attend the orientation until approximately a week before the event, which was past the deadline for reserving a room at a designated hotel. Assuming that rooms would no longer be available from those vendors, he did not contact them and instead arranged lodging at a hotel in Brighton, Utah. The nightly rates for that hotel were lower than those of the approved hotels. However, Brighton was farther from Salt Lake City than his PDS.
Butcher did not seek approval from his supervisor for his alternative travel and lodging plans. Also, he was the only employee to stay in a non-designated hotel. Moreover, all except one chose to commute from Heber in government vehicles.
Butcher attended the session and stayed each night in Brighton. Upon returning to his PDS, he submitted a request for reimbursement for his lodging costs but not his mileage expenses.
USDA denied the request, explaining that FTR 301-2.3 provides that “an employee traveling on official business is expected to exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on personal business.” In this situation, a prudent person on personal travel would not have elected to stay at a location farther away from the ultimate destination than the original location (residence or office). USDA believed Butcher’s choices to be particularly imprudent because rooms were available at the designated hotels.
The agency also noted that it believed Butcher chose to stay in Brighton so he could meet friends to ski at night. This belief was based on comments to that effect he made to his supervisor. Given this intent, USDA concluded that his stay in Brighton was not in the government’s best interest and instead served his personal activities. Butcher appealed to the GSBCA.
The board rejected the appeal. It emphasized that Butcher had never attempted to contact the designated hotels. Had he done so, he would have learned that rooms were available. In addition, he did not seek permission from his supervisor to deviate from the agency’s travel instructions. Further, his alternative arrangements required him to drive farther than his colleagues who elected to commute from their PDS.
According to the board, all these facts made clear that Butcher’s stay in Brighton served no mission-related purpose. Because the costs were not “necessary for or related to his temporary duty travel,” they could not be reimbursed.
FTR section 301-11.13 states that reimbursement is “limited to one-half of the double occupancy rate if the person sharing the room is another government employee on official travel. If the person sharing the room is not a government employee on official travel, your reimbursement is limited to the single occupancy rate.” You must also provide a lodging receipt regardless of the amount with your travel claim according to FTR section 301-11.25.
No. For foreign areas, lodging taxes are included in the per diem rate and cannot be separated. However, for CONUS, you may exclude the lodging taxes based only on the lodging rate paid and certain related lodging fees in accordance with FTR sections 301-11.27 and 301-12.1 in order to stay within your lodging per diem.
Employees on travel may be reimbursed lodging costs even if they stay with relatives or friends. Reimbursement is limited, however, to the “additional cost” the friend or relative incurs in accommodating the employee rather than the maximum per diem for the area.
The traveler will not be reimbursed the cost of comparable conventional lodging in the area or a flat “token” amount but rather the additional costs the host incurs in accommodating him/her. The traveler must substantiate the costs and the traveler’s agency must determine them to be reasonable.
In GSBCA 15338-TRAV, In the Matter of Javier R. Hernandez (October 11, 2000), an employee of the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Laredo, Texas, was authorized for an extended temporary duty assignment in Charleston, South Carolina. His travel authorization specified maximum amounts for lodging and per diem.
Hernandez’s assignment lasted 148 days. Rather than renting an apartment or a hotel room, he rented the second floor of his brother’s home. At the end of his assignment, Hernandez submitted a voucher for the maximum allowable per diem for lodging in the area, $13,600.
DOJ advised Hernandez that since he had stayed with his brother, he was not entitled to the maximum per diem amount. It urged him to correct the voucher and submit any evidence he had regarding the additional expense his brother incurred.
Hernandez submitted a new voucher for $5,922, claiming $43.53 per day for each day of lodging. He explained that the amount was an “average of the total cost incurred by his brother divided by 136 total days on detail.” As proof of the cost, Hernandez submitted copies of his brother’s federal tax return, Schedule E.
DOJ disputed the sufficiency of the evidence. In response, Hernandez submitted additional information, including his brother’s receipts for utilities, phone, cable TV, towels, pillows, toiletries, carpet cleaning, furniture, sheets, and appliances.
DOJ denied the second revised voucher, informing Hernandez that the documentation did not “substantiate additional out-of-pocket expenses” incurred by his brother. Hernandez appealed to the GSBCA. He argued that the FTR, section 301-11.15, allows travelers to be paid the following expenses when renting a room on a long-term basis: (1) the rental cost of a furnished dwelling; (2) if unfurnished, the rental cost of the dwelling and the cost of appropriate and necessary furniture and appliances; (3) the cost of connecting and disconnecting utilities; (4) the cost of reasonable maid fees; (5) the cost of monthly telephone use; and (6) if ordinarily included in the price of a hotel room, the cost of special user fees.
The board was not persuaded, believing that Hernandez’s reliance on FTR 301-11.15 was misplaced. The provision deals with either a landlord’s charges to a traveler or costs incurred directly by a traveler resulting from a long-term stay. It does not address reimbursement for costs incurred by a relative running his household.
The board stated that the applicable FTR section was 301-11.12(c). That section provides that travelers who stay with friends or relatives “may be reimbursed the additional costs their hosts incur in accommodating them only if they are able to substantiate the costs and their agency determines the expenses are reasonable.” Travelers are not entitled to the cost of conventional lodging in the area or a flat “token” amount.
According to the board, Hernandez was seeking his brother’s household maintenance costs rather than additional expenses his brother had incurred. For example, Hernandez requested reimbursement for the full cost of an entertainment system, furniture, lawn care equipment, mattresses, and plumbing supplies. These items had a useful life far beyond Hernandez’s stay. Moreover, they benefited his entire family and not just Hernandez. As a result, DOJ should not be responsible for their cost.
While the costs of consumables and utility services are generally reimbursable, the board found that DOJ should not pay them in this case. Agencies are responsible only for the portion of such items and services used by a government employee. Hernandez failed to submit sufficient receipts to make that determination. Therefore, the board concluded that DOJ should not reimburse any of the requested amount.
The purpose of the rule, as discussed in question #111, is to ensure that while the government reimburses costs of lodging that are incurred through a business relationship, it does not promote arrangements made between closely aligned individuals for the purpose of enriching the employee, the host, or both. However, if the friend or relative is in the business of operating a hotel or apartment house, the “friends or relatives” provision of the FTR does not apply.
FTR section 301-11.12 states in part that “Your agency will reimburse you for nonconventional lodging when there are no conventional lodging facilities in the area (e.g., in remote areas)… you may be reimbursed for expenses (parking fees, fees for connection, use, and disconnection of utilities, electricity, gas, water and sewage, bath or shower fees, and dumping fees) which may be considered as a lodging cost” for a recreational vehicle (trailer/camper).
Agencies are required to reimburse travelers the full cost of transportation for authorized travel between the employee’s PDS or other authorized departure point and the TDY site and return. Agencies are also required to pay certain transportation expenses that the employee incurs while at the TDY site.
As a traveler, you must travel to your destination by the usually traveled route unless your agency authorizes or approves a different route as officially necessary. If, for personal convenience, you travel by an indirect route or interrupt travel by a direct route, your reimbursement will be limited to the cost of travel by a direct route or on an uninterrupted basis. You will be responsible for any additional costs. Your agency must select the method of transportation most advantageous to the government when considering cost and other factors. (See Approving Official Responsibilities in Part IV, Before You Travel.)
Travel by common carrier is presumed to be the most advantageous method of transportation and must be used when reasonably available. When your agency determines that your travel must be performed by automobile, a government automobile is presumed to be the most advantageous method of transportation.
This section provides basic information on incurring and reimbursement of expenses related to the most common modes of transportation. For a mode of transportation not addressed, consult with your agency travel manager.
Transportation by common carrier (commercial) air is generally the most cost-efficient and expeditious way to travel. However, certain expenses related to commercial air travel may be restricted or limited, depending on the situation. The traveler should be aware of the requirements for traveling by common carrier air to avoid financial liability for unauthorized expenses.
Agencies are required to reimburse travelers for the cost of purchasing airfare from an unauthorized travel agent up to the total amount a ticket would have cost had it been purchased from an authorized source. However, agencies may take disciplinary action against employees who do not follow agency travel policy.
In GSBCA 15692-TRAV, In the Matter of D. Gregory Arnold (January 18, 2000), a civilian employee of the Department of the Air Force in Ohio was authorized to attend a Defense Acquisition University class in Florida. He enrolled in the class and arranged for his family to accompany him on the trip.
Arnold’s airline ticket was purchased through a commercial travel office (CTO) selected by the Air Force, at a cost of $208. Unfortunately, a week before the class began, Arnold learned that due to an administrative error, he had been placed on the waiting list for the class rather than enrolled in it. His supervisor suggested that he proceed with his plans to travel to Florida with his family, pay for his own airline ticket, and appear for the first meeting of the class. The supervisor further advised him that if he was successful in enrolling for the two-week course, travel orders for his attendance would be issued after he returned. If he was unable to enroll, he should simply remain with his family in Florida and the time would be charged to his annual leave.
Arnold followed his supervisor’s advice. He canceled his ticket, which had been purchased through the CTO, and instead purchased different airfare at a cost of $202. Upon arriving in Florida, he was able to successfully enroll in the class.
The Air Force issued confirming travel orders on his return. In addition, it reimbursed him all his TDY assignment costs except the $202 he spent on airfare. It informed him that since he did not buy the ticket from a CTO, in-house travel office, or General Services Travel Management Center as required by subparagraph C2207-A.1 of the JTR, he was not entitled to reimbursement for that expense.
Arnold appealed to the GSBCA, which found he was entitled to reimbursement.
The board emphasized that Section 301-50.2 of the FTR, which is binding on all defense agencies in addition to the JTR, requires agencies to reimburse employees for the cost of purchasing airfare from an unauthorized travel agent, up to the total a ticket would have cost had it been purchased from an authorized source. Because Arnold’s original ticket purchased through the CTO cost $208 and the ticket he purchased cost $202, he was entitled to reimbursement for the full amount. If the cost of the ticket had exceeded the total of the CTO-purchased airfare, his reimbursement would have been capped at $208.
In issuing the decision, the GSBCA noted that it has decided multiple cases over the past few years with similar circumstances. As a result, it encouraged Air Force senior officials to remind all agency travel and finance offices of this rule so that “in the future, claims will be resolved with Board decisions in mind, thereby avoiding futile defenses of repetitious cases.”
The GSBCA issued a decision in 2000 in which it determined that an unusual circumstance allowed a traveler to be reimbursed for the total cost of an airline ticket purchased from an unauthorized source.
In GSBCA 15197-TRAV, In the Matter of In the Matter of Robert E. Dawes (February 1, 2000), an employee of the Department of the Air Force based in California was scheduled to attend a conference in Colorado. Ten days before the trip, Dawes purchased round-trip airline tickets from his agency’s designated CTO. When he arrived at the airport and checked in at the gate 30 minutes before the scheduled flight, Dawes realized that he had forgotten his tickets. Since there was not enough time to return home and get the tickets, Dawes purchased replacement tickets directly from the airline. He did not want to take a later flight because he had arranged for a conference coordinator to meet him at the airport in Colorado and he had no way of contacting her to inform her of a change in flight plans.
When Dawes returned to California, he was able to return the unused tickets to the CTO for a full refund. When he requested reimbursement from the Air Force for the replacement tickets he had purchased, his claim was denied. The Air Force contended that Dawes was not entitled to reimbursement because he failed to purchase the tickets from the CTO.
The GSBCA rejected the Air Force’s reasoning. In determining whether an employee has an alternative, the board recognized that the alternative must be a reasonable one. An employee is not required to exercise an alternative, however unreasonable, merely because it exists. Rather, the employee is entitled to use his/her judgment in assessing the reasonableness of the alternative in light of specific factual conditions.
Dawes had no alternative but to purchase replacement tickets directly from the airline when he realized he had forgotten the tickets only 30 minutes before his scheduled flight. Although the board noted that Dawes conceivably could have tried calling the CTO to see if it could arrange new tickets in time for him to make his flight, this was an unlikely possibility and was therefore not a reasonable alternative.
Further, although he could have canceled the trip, this decision would have resulted in a delay in his TDY assignment and would have caused inconvenience for the colleague he had arranged to meet in Colorado. Thus, this option was not a reasonable alternative either under the circumstances. Since Dawes’ decision to purchase replacement tickets was reasonable in light of the various factors he was forced to confront, his use of a non-contract agent fell within the “unusual circumstances” exception and he was entitled to reimbursement.
No, federal travelers may not be reimbursed for flight insurance. The purchase of flight or accident insurance is considered a personal expense and therefore is not reimbursable (FTR section 301-10.452). Likewise, trip cancellation insurance is not reimbursable.
No. If an agency has established a centrally billed account (CBA) to track travel expenses for contractors, it should have a separate CBA account numbering structure that denotes no access to the airline city pair fares. Further, contractors are not considered invitational travelers and should not share a CBA with such orders.
Yes. Although you may generally use any airport that best suits your needs (for example, one that is closer to your residence than to your PDS), your supervisor has the authority to direct the use of a specific airport in accordance with agency policy. Cities that have multiple airports include Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
An agency may authorize a rest period not in excess of 24 hours at either an intermediate point or at the traveler’s destination if:
Either the origin or destination point is OCONUS
The traveler’s scheduled flight time, including stopovers, exceeds 14 hours
Travel is by a direct or usually traveled route
Travel is by coach-class service.
When a rest stop is authorized, the applicable per diem rate is the rate for the rest stop location.
Travelers do not make the decision or determine how they may travel, including use of premium class accommodations. Federal employees must travel as directed by their agency. A traveler is not entitled to premium-class accommodations just because the flight time is more than 14 hours. FTR section 301-70.100 requires agencies to “limit authorization and payment of transportation expenses to those expenses that result in the greatest advantage to the government.” Therefore, the agency has discretion to authorize either accommodations other than coach class in accordance with FTR section 301-10.125 or a rest period in accordance with FTR section 301-11.20.
Although the government normally requires travelers to fly in coach class, a traveler can choose to upgrade class accommodations at his/her own expense, including using personal frequent-flyer miles earned previously on official trips. Once the official ticket has been issued reflecting the coach-class accommodations, the traveler may then exchange the ticket to accommodate the upgrade request.
Since an upgrade is a contract between the traveler and the airline, the traveler is responsible for any fees or penalties associated with the upgrade. However, an agency may reimburse a traveler for an upgraded ticket to accommodate a special physical need if the upgrade is authorized and priority seating is guaranteed. See also Special Needs in Part IV: Before You Travel and questions #123 and #124.
Airlines are constantly updating their offerings. Generally, the classes of available air accommodations are identified and defined as follows:
Coach class – The basic class of accommodation that is normally the lowest fare offered. Airlines sometimes refer to coach class as tourist class, economy class, or single class when they offer only one class of accommodations to all travelers.
Other than coach class – Any class of accommodations above coach class. This includes first class, which is the highest class of accommodation offered by the airlines in terms of cost and amenities, and business class, which is higher than coach class and lower than first class in both cost and amenities. Different airlines refer to business class as business elite, business first, world business, connoisseur, or envoy.
If an airline flight has only two classes of accommodations available (i.e., two “cabins”), with two distinctly different seating types (such as girth and pitch), and the front cabin is termed business class or higher by the airline and the tickets are fare-coded as business class, then the front of the cabin is deemed to be other than coach class. Alternatively, if an airline flight has only two cabins available but equips both with one type of seating (i.e., seating girth and pitch are the same in both cabins), the seats in the front of the airplane are coded as full-fare economy class, and only restricted economy fares are available in the back of the aircraft, then the entire aircraft is classified as coach-class seating. In this second situation, qualifying for other-than-coach-class travel is not required to purchase a non-restricted economy fare seat in the front of the aircraft because the entire aircraft is considered coach class.
Government travelers are required to exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on personal business when making official travel arrangements; accordingly, government travelers should consider the least expensive class of travel that meets their needs. First-class accommodations may be used only when the agency specifically authorizes this use under the following circumstances:
No coach-class accommodations are reasonably available. “Reasonably available” means available on an airline that is scheduled to leave within 24 hours of your proposed departure time or scheduled to arrive within 24 hours of your proposed arrival time.
Use of other than coach class is necessary to accommodate a medical disability or other special need, including an attendant to accompany you.
Exceptional security circumstances require other-than-coach-class airline accommodations. Exceptional security circumstances are determined by your agency and should be authorized only up to the minimum that other-than-coach-class accommodations are necessary. These circumstances include, but are not limited to:
– You are an agent on protective detail and you are accompanying an individual authorized to use other-than-coach-class accommodations
– You are a courier or control officer accompanying controlled pouches or packages.
An agency may authorize/approve business-class accommodations if any of the following apply:
Use of other than coach class is necessary to accommodate a medical disability or other special need.
Exceptional security circumstances require other-than-coach-class airline accommodations. Exceptional security circumstances are determined by your agency and should be authorized only to the minimum that other-than-coach-class accommodations are necessary to meet the agency’s mission. These circumstances include, but are not limited to:
– Use of coach-class accommodations would endanger your life or government property
– You are an agent on protective detail and you are accompanying an individual authorized to use other-than-coach-class accommodations
– You are a courier or control officer accompanying controlled pouches or packages.
A disability must be certified annually in a written statement by a competent medical authority. However, if the disability is a lifelong condition, then a one-time certification statement is required. Certification statements must include at a minimum:
Approximate duration of the special accommodation
Recommendation regarding the suitable class of transportation accommodations based on the disability.
A special need must be certified annually in writing according to the agency’s procedures. However, if the special need is a lifelong condition, then a one-time certification statement is required. If you are authorized additional travel expenses as an employee with special needs to have an attendant accompany you, your agency may also authorize the attendant to use other-than-coach-class accommodations if you require the attendant’s services en route.
An agency may authorize or approve first-class or business-class accommodations in any of the following circumstances:
Coach-class accommodations on an authorized/approved foreign air carrier do not provide adequate sanitation or health standards
Regularly scheduled flights between origin/destination points (including connecting points) provide only other-than-coach-class accommodations and you certify such on your voucher
The traveler’s transportation costs are paid in full through agency acceptance of payment from a non-federal source in accordance with the FTR
The origin or destination are OCONUS and the scheduled flight time, including stopovers and change of planes, is in excess of 14 hours
No space is available in coach-class accommodations in time to accomplish the mission, which is urgent and cannot be postponed
Such accommodations are required based on agency mission, consistent with the agency’s internal procedures in accordance with the FTR.
Other-than-coach-class accommodations may also be authorized on a foreign carrier if:
The foreign air carrier does not provide adequate sanitation or health standards in coach class
Regularly scheduled flights between origin/destination points (including connecting points) provide only other-than-coach-class accommodations and you certify such on your voucher
Your transportation costs are paid in full through agency acceptance of payment from a non-federal source in accordance with established policies and procedures
The origin or destination is OCONUS and the scheduled flight time, including stopovers and change of planes, is in excess of 14 hours
Overall cost to the government is reduced by avoiding additional subsistence costs, overtime, or lost productive time while awaiting coach-class accommodations
No space is available in coach-class accommodations in time to accomplish the mission, which is urgent and cannot be postponed.
A traveler may, however, upgrade to other-than-coach-class accommodations at personal expense, including through redemption of frequent-flyer benefits.
In general, blanket authorization of other-than-coach-class transportation accommodations is prohibited. Such accommodations must be authorized on an individual trip-by-trip basis, unless the traveler has an up-to-date documented disability or special need.
The Fly America Act requires that foreign air travel funded with federal dollars be performed on U.S. flag air carriers, unless a traveler meets one of the act’s strict exceptions.
A U.S. flag air carrier is an air carrier that holds a certificate issued by the United States under 49 U.S.C. 41102; foreign carriers operating under a permit are not included.
A code-share agreement is a marketing arrangement where one airline puts its code on the flights of another airline in order to coordinate services and advertise and sell the other airline’s services as its own (i.e., the code-share flights are marketed by U.S. carriers as their own flights). Some or all of the transportation is provided by another carrier, which carries its partner’s designator code. Code-share agreements are common practice.
When using a foreign air carrier, a traveler will need to provide a certification regarding why a foreign air carrier must be used. According to FTR section 301-10.142, the certification must include the traveler’s name; the dates of travel; the origin and destination of travel; a detailed itinerary of the travel, including the name of the air carrier and flight number for each leg of the trip; and a statement explaining how the travel meets one of the exceptions to the requirements of the Fly America Act.
If a U.S. flag air carrier offers nonstop or direct service (no aircraft change) from your origin to your destination, you must use the U.S. flag air carrier service unless such use would extend your travel time, including delay at origin, by 24 hours or more.
If a U.S. flag air carrier does not offer nonstop or direct service between your origin and your destination, you must use a U.S. flag air carrier on every portion of the route where it provides service unless, when compared to using a foreign air carrier, such use would result in one of the following:
Increase the number of aircraft changes you must make outside the United States by two or more
Extend your travel time by six hours or more
Require a connecting time of four hours or more at an overseas interchange point.
A traveler must always use a U.S. flag carrier for such travel unless, when compared to using a foreign air carrier, such use would:
Increase the number of aircraft changes you must make outside the United States by two or more
Extend your travel time by six hours or more
No. The traveler must use U.S. flag air carrier service unless the traveler meets one of the exceptions as stated above or unless foreign air carrier service is deemed a matter of necessity.
No. As the following GSBCA decision demonstrates, federal employees are “responsible for performing official travel correctly … and for the payment of any charges incurred through failure to comply with governing regulations, regardless of who may have assisted the traveler in making the travel arrangements.”
In GSBCA 15012-TRAV, In the Matter of Desiree Fray (July 23, 1999), a Department of State (DOS) employee at the U.S. Consulate General in Cape Town, South Africa, was authorized to travel round trip from Cape Town to Washington, D.C. DOS’s travel agent booked Fray on American Airlines from Cape Town to Miami, Florida, and from Miami to Washington, D.C. For her return trip, the travel agent booked Fray through Europe since flights to Cape Town through Miami were not available on the day Fray wanted to travel. The agent booked Fray on United Airlines from Washington to London and on South African Airways from London to Cape Town.
The untaxed price of Fray’s ticket was 12,610 South African rands. The fares for a direct return to Cape Town through Miami on American Airlines and for a return to Cape Town through London on United Airlines and South African Airways were the same. As a result, the travel agent assumed that booking the last leg of the trip on a foreign carrier was acceptable.
Upon returning, Fray submitted a travel voucher totaling $2,318.48 for all her expenses, excluding airfare. Fray had already received a travel advance of $2,247. Consequently, she expected to receive a check for $71.48. Instead, DOS claimed that she had violated the Fly America Act by using South African Airways and therefore owed the government $1,286.40.
DOS explained that the penalty for not flying a U.S.-flagged carrier was $1,357.88—the cost of Fray’s ticket from London to Cape Town. In reaching the final figure of 1,286.40, DOS simply subtracted the $71.48 it owed Fray for outstanding travel expenses from the penalty for violating the Fly America Act.
Fray appealed to the GSBCA. She argued that she should not be assessed the penalty because she had only followed the advice of her travel agent.
The GSBCA was not persuaded. The board noted that the Fly America Act requires federal employees to use U.S.-flagged vessels for flights within and from the United States, unless “use of a foreign carrier is necessary.” The board has interpreted “necessary” as including medical emergencies or if no seats are available on a U.S. carrier.
In this situation, seats were available. Moreover, it did not matter that Fray relied on the judgment of DOS’s travel agent. According to the board, all federal employees are “responsible for performing official travel correctly … and for the payment of any charges incurred through failure to comply with governing regulations, regardless of who may have assisted the traveler in making the travel arrangements.”
No. Foreign air carrier service may not be used solely based on the cost of the ticket.
Yes. The traveler must provide certification and any other documents required by the traveler’s agency.
The certification must include:
The traveler’s name
The dates of travel
The origin and the destination of the travel
A detailed itinerary of the travel, name of the air carrier, and flight number of each leg of the trip
A statement explaining why the traveler met one of the exceptions in accordance with FTR section 301-10.135, 301-10.136, or 301-10.137, or a copy of the traveler’s agency’s written approval that foreign air carrier service was deemed a matter of necessity in accordance with FTR section 301-10.138.
Your agency may not pay your foreign air carrier fare if you do not provide the required certification.
No. Air travel paid by the federal government must occur on U.S. flag carriers wherever possible. The government may make exceptions to this rule only when the traveler proves that the use of a foreign air carrier was necessary.
In CBCA 1625-RELO, In the Matter of Token D. Barnthouse, (January 8, 2010), a Navy civilian employee was relocated from a naval base in Guam to Sigonella, Italy, in July 2008. While traveling to Italy, he missed his connecting flight in Los Angeles. The events that occurred next became the subject of a dispute between Barnthouse and the Navy.
Barnthouse, believing that his original tickets from Los Angeles to Italy became “null and void” when he missed his connecting flight, bought another set of tickets from another carrier, Alitalia Airlines. On his new itinerary, he traveled from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Rome ($2,442.16) and from Rome to Catania, Italy ($400). Barnthouse paid the total balance with a personal credit card.
Barnthouse submitted a voucher for reimbursement of the alternate route. The Navy paid him $400 for the flight from Rome to Catania because no American carrier operates on this route. However, the Navy rejected his costs for travel from LAX to Rome on the basis that he was required to travel on an airline based in the United States. Barnthouse, noting that he had seen other U.S. military members traveling on the same Alitalia flight to Rome, appealed to the CBCA for reimbursement of the remaining $2,442.16.
The Navy told the CBCA that it didn’t understand why Barnthouse had missed his connecting flight in the first place. He had been scheduled to arrive at LAX at 5:00 a.m. on a Continental Airlines flight and depart LAX at 7:15 a.m. on an American Airlines flight to Chicago, Illinois; the Navy confirmed that both flights had been on time. The Navy’s representative stated: “This gave [Barnthouse] approximately two hours to get from one flight to the other. [His] claim that the ticket was void because he did not have time to connect to the flight seems unlikely unless there are other mitigating circumstances that [he] has not mentioned.”
The Navy also asserted that it could not reimburse travel via a foreign flag air carrier when a route was available through a U.S.-based air carrier. It explained that Barnthouse may have seen other military members on the same flight under official travel, but their tickets had been purchased from a U.S. air carrier: “U.S. flag carriers routinely use foreign flag carriers to transport their customers with connecting flights including military members. When the airlines and the government do this, these travelers, while using the assigned foreign flag carrier, are traveling under an American airline flight number thus staying in the parameters of using an American airline.”
Last, the Navy noted that Barnthouse had not provided sufficient detail on his purchases: “The only proof of purchase he provided was a credit card statement from Navy Federal Credit Union showing a purchase was made from Alitalia Airlines on July 31, 2008. He has not provided an itinerary from the flight nor an itemized breakdown of what the expenses were. For all we know he purchased a first class ticket, multiple tickets, or paid pet transportation fees which are unauthorized for travel at government expense.”
The CBCA agreed that each of the Navy’s reasons for rejecting reimbursement was valid. Under the Fly America Act, 49 U.S.C. 40118(a)(3)(B) (2006), air travel paid by the federal government must occur on U.S. flag carriers wherever possible. The government may make exceptions to this rule only when the traveler proves that the use of a foreign air carrier was necessary. This statute is reflected in JTR C2204-C.2. Accordingly, the CBCA rejected Barnthouse’s claim.
Open Skies is an agreement that allows certain foreign nations’ airlines the right to transport passengers and cargo on scheduled or charter flights for U.S. government–procured transportation. These agreements do not apply to the DoD Uniformed Services nor to DoD civilian employees unless their travel is funded by a non-DoD agency in accordance with that agency’s/service’s policy if a city-pair flight is not available for the scheduled official travel between the origin and destination.
If authorized by the agency, a traveler may use Open Skies if the traveler meets the exceptions under the Fly America Act to use a foreign carrier as stated in questions #133 and #134. The traveler cannot use transportation service under Open Skies if the transportation is between points for which there is a city-pair contract fare in effect for air passenger transportation services or the transportation is obtained or funded by the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of a military department.
The exceptions are:
If a U.S. flag air carrier offers nonstop or direct service (no aircraft change) from your origin to your destination, you must use the U.S. flag air carrier service unless such use would extend your travel time, including delay at origin, by 24 hours or more.
If a U.S. flag air carrier does not offer nonstop or direct service between your origin and your destination, you must use a U.S. flag air carrier on every portion of the route where it provides service unless, when compared to using a foreign air carrier, such use would:
– Increase the number of aircraft changes you must make outside the United States by two or more
– Extend your travel time by six hours or more
– Require a connecting time of four hours or more at an overseas interchange point.
The rules governing the class of service for rail transportation are the same as the rules governing common-air-carrier class of service. Travelers should generally travel by coach-class train service.
An extra-fare train is a train that operates at an increased fare based on the extra performance of the train (e.g., faster speed or fewer stops such as the Acela and Metroliner).
A traveler may use extra-fare train service when the agency determines that doing so is more advantageous to the government or is required for security reasons. Extra-fare train service is considered to be a class above the lowest class offered on any particular train and must be authorized/approved as required for accommodations above coach class.
A traveler may use other-than-coach-class accommodations only when the agency specifically authorizes such use under the same circumstances as for air travel as discussed in questions #123 through #127.
FTR section 301-10.4 requires an approving official to select the method of transportation most advantageous to the government when cost and other factors are considered. However, FTR section 301-70.105 states in part that the approving official may not prohibit an employee from using his/her POV but must limit reimbursement to the “constructive cost of the authorized method of transportation … [and the employee must] charge leave for any duty hours that are missed as a result of travel by POV.”
Use of a POV may be authorized when determined advantageous to the government. However, travelers cannot receive reimbursement for additional days of travel incurred as a result of choosing to travel by POV. In all cases, using a POV to transport other employees is strictly voluntary.
In accordance with FTR section 301-10.305, “If another employee(s) travels with you on the same trip in the same POV, mileage is payable to only one of you. No deduction will be made from your mileage allowance if other passengers contribute to defraying your expenses.”
Reimbursement for extra travel days depends on the result of a constructive cost analysis performed by your agency. The constructive cost analysis is based on the authorized method of common-carrier transportation plus per diem.
In accordance with FTR section 310.10-220, “You must possess a valid State, District of Columbia or territorial motor vehicle operator’s license and have a travel authorization specifically authorizing the use of a government-furnished automobile.” Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that a traveler must meet the requirement for driving a government vehicle at the time the travel authorization is prepared. Also, if travel is a requirement in the performance of the employee’s official duties, withholding such information may be viewed as a violation of standards of conduct.
The traveler will be reimbursed based on a constructive mileage rate, which is limited to the cost that would be incurred for use of a government automobile (GOA). If the agency determines that the cost of providing a GOA would be higher because of unusual circumstances, it may allow reimbursement not to exceed the mileage rate for a POV. In addition, the traveler may be reimbursed other allowable mileage expenses, such as tolls and parking, as authorized by the agency and in accordance with the FTR.
In GSBCA 15231-TRAV, In the Matter of Charles M. Auker (April 24, 2000), a civilian employee of DoD in Cuyahoga, Ohio, was assigned to the Defense Contract Management Command (DCMC) in Akron, Ohio. In July, Auker was directed to report to an office in Bratenahl, Ohio, for a meeting and to obtain safety shoes from a store in Cleveland, Ohio. DoD did not state what means of transportation Auker should use. Without seeking authorization to use a POV, Auker drove his own car to the meeting in Bratenahl and to obtain safety shoes in Cleveland. The trip totaled 82 miles.
Auker submitted a reimbursement voucher for 31 cents per mile. DoD refused to reimburse him at the maximum POV rate and instead reimbursed him at 10.5 cents per mile. DoD informed Auker that it had not authorized him to use a POV, noting that he should have used one of the four government-owned vehicles the agency maintains in Akron.
Auker appealed to the GSBCA. He claimed that he had not been permitted to use a government-owned vehicle on a previous trip and had instead been authorized to use his own car. As a result, he had no reason to believe he would be authorized to use a government-owned vehicle for this trip.
The board was not persuaded. It emphasized that the JTR limits mileage reimbursement to 10.5 cents per mile if a government vehicle is available and the employee instead chooses to use a POV.
In this case, a government-owned vehicle was available. Auker’s belief that a government vehicle would not be available since one was not for his last trip lacked any basis, according to the board. Auker should have sought authorization to use a POV. His failure to do so placed him at risk that he would be reimbursed at the lowest possible rate.
The mileage rate covers all costs of operating a POV, including gasoline, depreciation, insurance, and repairs. The following is a partial listing of reimbursable and non-reimbursable expenses:
|Reimbursable expenses in addition to mileage allowance||Non-reimbursable expenses included in the mileage allowance|
|Parking fees; ferry fees; bridge, road, and tunnel fees; and aircraft or airplane parking, landing, and tie-down fees||Charges for repairs, depreciation, replacements, grease, oil, antifreeze, towage and similar speculative expenses, gasoline, insurance, state and federal taxes|
No, a traveler cannot be denied use of a POV instead of air travel. However, the traveler’s reimbursement will be limited to the cost of travel by a direct route or on an uninterrupted basis. Any additional costs incurred for traveling an indirect route (such as an unofficial stop or a stopover for personal reasons) will be the responsibility of the traveler.
In GSBCA 14966-TRAV, In the Matter of Bernhard Reeves (December 6, 1999), a civilian employee of the Navy in Charleston, South Carolina, was issued travel orders to report to Norfolk, Virginia, on a TDY assignment. The TDY was scheduled to begin on February 16 and end on February 19. Reeves’ travel orders authorized him to travel by air; he elected to use his own car instead.
Reeves departed from Charleston on February 14 and arrived in Norfolk on February 15. He started his TDY on February 16 and completed it on February 19 at 2:00 p.m. Immediately after completing the TDY, Reeves left Norfolk and traveled more than five hours to Havelock, North Carolina. He stayed in Havelock overnight and completed the trip the next day.
After returning, Reeves submitted a travel voucher. He requested reimbursement for February 16 through 20, including hotel expenses, full-day per diem for Friday, February 19, and three-quarters per diem for Saturday, February 20.
The Navy agreed to reimburse Reeves’ full per diem for February 16 through February 18. It refused, however, to reimburse him his lodging expenses for February 19. Instead, it authorized three-quarters per diem for that day. Finally, it refused to authorize any per diem for February 20. The Navy informed Reeves that if he had traveled by air, he would have arrived home on February 19 and would not have incurred additional lodging expenses or any additional travel expenses on February 20.
Reeves appealed to the GSBCA. He argued that he should be reimbursed for a full day of per diem and lodging on his departure day and a partial per diem for the following day, to cover expenses he incurred to avoid traveling during off-duty hours.
The board rejected his appeal, noting that an employee on official travel is not ordinarily required to travel during unreasonable hours at night. If Reeves had traveled by air, he would have departed Norfolk on February 19 at 2:00 p.m., arrived in Charleston at 5:00 p.m., and arrived home from the airport at 6:30 p.m. None of these times represent unreasonable “nighttime” travel.
Since Reeves traveled by car, he took the risk that he would be forced to travel additional hours at night as well as on subsequent days. The test for reimbursement is the schedule that he would have kept had he traveled by air and not the schedule he maintained as a result of choosing to travel by POV.
Agencies may authorize the use of a rental car when such use is determined to be advantageous to the government. An agency must specifically authorize use of a rental car in advance of travel and must annotate the use on the traveler’s travel authorization.
No. If a traveler is authorized by his/her agency to rent a car in accordance with FTR sections 301-2.5 and 301-10.450, the traveler must decline the cost of collision damage or theft insurance coverage. For vehicles rented for official business while in CONUS, the government is self-insured through contracts negotiated through the Defense Travel Management Office. However, the agency may reimburse the traveler for such insurance for OCONUS travel if the insurance is necessary because of rental or agency requirements or foreign laws, or because legal procedures could cause extreme difficulty for the traveler if involved an accident (FTR section 301-10.451).
Yes. Should the government later determine that the use of a rental car was not more advantageous to the government than some other means of transportation as stated in the FTR, the traveler may not be reimbursed for the rental car expenses.
In GSBCA 15042- TRAV, In the Matter of Gregory E. Fife (September 14, 1999), an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Dallas, Texas, was authorized to travel to San Francisco, California, for a conference. Fife learned from a fellow EPA employee during a conference call that employees of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) were planning a strike during the time of his trip and that travelers should therefore expect to pay three to four times the normal rates for taxis. Fife noted this situation when discussing with his supervisor how he would reach his hotel from the airport. There was no bus service from the airport, and the hotel did not have a shuttle. To avoid exorbitant taxi fares, Fife’s supervisor authorized a rental car. Fife’s travel orders were amended to reflect the change.
Upon arriving in San Francisco, Fife rented a car and, together with another EPA employee attending the meeting, drove to the hotel from the airport. Fife parked the car in the hotel garage for the duration of his stay. He used the car several times to go out to dinner and lunch and to drive back to the airport for his return flight.
The total cost of renting and parking the car was $189.23. When Fife submitted a voucher for reimbursement, EPA refused to pay the full cost. It informed him that the rental car was not justified because commercial transportation would have been more advantageous to the government. Instead, the agency reimbursed him $60—the projected cost of using taxis (based on the $20 per ten miles charged by Dallas taxis). Fife resubmitted his claim together with documentation that taxi fare from the San Francisco airport to downtown is approximately $30–35.
EPA again denied the claim. However, it raised the reimbursement amount to $140, reasoning that because Fife had provided a colleague transportation from the airport, he was entitled to the cost of a two-passenger taxi fare rather than a solo fare.
Fife appealed to the GSBCA. The board denied his appeal, noting that, generally, “travel orders which authorize the use of a rental car are deemed to be in error unless the facts clearly establish that the car was advantageous to the government or was used for official business.” In this case, the facts did not clearly indicate that renting a car would have been cheaper than using local public transportation.
The board emphasized that the source of Fife’s claim that taxi fares would be excessive was based solely on a remark made by another employee during a conference call. On arriving in San Francisco, Fife made no effort to verify a rate hike. In addition, EPA was unable to independently verify that taxi fares had increased. An EPA certifying official called Fife’s hotel to determine if hotel staff had heard guests complain of being charged excessive taxi fares, but no complaints had been reported.
Although the board recognized that Fife’s travel orders permitted him to rent a car, it determined that his unconditional reliance on the document was misplaced. The authorization was predicated on the assumption that taxis or other forms of transportation might require an expenditure in excess of what would be required to rent a vehicle. Given the uncertainty of all these assumptions, the board determined that it was unreasonable for Fife to have rented the car and expected reimbursement.
Although no specific rule in the FTR specifically addresses the use and reimbursement of a GPS, agencies have discretion for authorizing certain travel expenses in a manner that is most effective and efficient for the agency. As stated in Part IV: Before You Travel under Agency Responsibilities, agencies are required to have written established policies based on the various statutes outlined in 5 U.S.C. Chapter 57, on which form the conditions for payment of travel allowances in the FTR are based. Having clear written policies makes it easier to determine a traveler’s entitlement when compared with any stated condition on a travel authorization. For example, IRS travel policy states in part that a GPS may be reimbursed “if the GPS is permanently affixed to the vehicle and the charge for the GPS is included in the daily rate rental car fee. Portable GPS devices are not considered to be standard equipment, but an accessory so you would be liable for any costs if the device is lost or stolen.”
In the case of CBCA 1899-TRAV, In the Matter of Terris King (July 26, 2010), on eight occasions while on travel, the claimant paid a surcharge to rent a navigation system in a vehicle. Because the claimant lacked express authorization to expend additional funds for the rental of a navigation system, the claimant was determined to be personally liable for the associated amounts.
The traveler may be liable for car rental damages and should consult with his/her agency’s legal counsel. Travelers should rent cars through the U.S. Government Rental Car and Truck Program managed by the Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO). Under certain conditions, travelers may obtain rates directly through the rental car company website, toll-free numbers, or walk-up services, but in those cases the traveler is responsible for and must ensure that he/she is booking a government rate or that the government administrative rate supplement (GARS) is included.
The government administrative rate supplement (GARS) is a $5.00 mandatory fee charged to the renter per day worldwide. GARS is intended to address those costs incurred by the rental car company that are particular to doing business with the government (such as under-aged drivers, additional drivers, and administration).
As stated on the DTMO website, the program provides “special rental benefits and reduced rates to all federal government employees traveling on official business. The programs are designed to meet the needs of the federal traveler, and provide quality rentals through a variety of companies at over 10,000 rental locations.” Further information about the U.S. Rental Car and Truck Program is provided on the DTMO website: www.defensetravel.dod.mil/Docs/CarRentalAgreement.pdf.
If a rental car is not available through the government rental program, the traveler should consider using a government vehicle. Otherwise, the traveler may be liable for any or all damages to a rental car not rented through the DTMO.
In CBCA 1207-TRAV, In the Matter of Marian Roche (Sept. 23, 2008), an employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) rented a car to travel to a conference in Texas. Rather than use the agency’s contract travel office (CTO), Omega World Travel, she rented the car from E-Z Rent-A-Car.
When Roche returned the car, the rental company discovered a scratch on the left front door and charged her $1039.69 for the damage. NSA refused to reimburse her for the fee on the basis that she had used an unauthorized CTO. It limited her entitlement to Omega World Travel’s daily rate.
Roche took her claim to the CBCA, maintaining that NSA’s travel office had advised her that she could make her own car reservation. She also asserted that “when making travel arrangements thru the CTO, I [was] asked (as are all other travelers) whether we want the CTO to make car and/or hotel reservations.” Roche believed that the question implied that use of the CTO is optional.
The CBCA found that NSA was correct to limit her reimbursement to the cost of renting a car from the CTO. JTR section 2102-B.1.a states unequivocally that “it is mandatory to obtain a rental vehicle through the CTO … when available.”
Furthermore, the rate charged by rental car companies contracting with the government includes full liability and vehicle loss and damage for the traveler and the government. In situations where the CTO is not used, JTR section C2102-B.3 provides that “reimbursement is limited to what it would have cost if a CTO … had made the rental vehicle arrangements.”
For civilian federal workers, the rules are the same under the FTR. Section 301-50.8 provides that “when authorized to use a rental vehicle under Sec. 301-10.450 of this chapter, you must rent a vehicle from a vendor that participates in the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) U.S. government Car Rental Agreement, unless you are OCONUS and no agreement is in place for your TDY location. SDDC has negotiated rental car agreements that include automatic unlimited mileage, collision damage insurance, and ceiling rates.”
Furthermore, FTR section 301-10.453 specifies that federal employees “are responsible for any additional cost resulting from the unauthorized use of a commercial rental automobile for other than official travel-related purposes.”
If authorized, employees may use a rental car not only to and from lodging to TDY, but also to places of worship and for dining. However, if food is available at the traveler’s lodging facility, the agency may determine that the rental car was being used for other than official business and therefore was not authorized (unless the traveler required a special meal for religious or medical reasons). In that case, the traveler would be responsible and would not be reimbursed for damage to the rental car while it was being used before or after work hours for other than official business.
Having clear written agency policy would avoid such financial liability to the traveler. The traveler may seek to obtain advance authorization to use a rental car for dining, for example, as a condition for travel on the travel authorization.
Similarly, the traveler may not be reimbursed for the cost of repairs since the traveler was not on official duty at the time of the accident.
In GSBCA 16477-TRAV, In the Matter of Tassos Abadiotakis (October 13, 2004), an employee of NASA in Cape Canaveral, Florida, was authorized TDY in Ogden, Utah. NASA approved commercial airfare and the use of a rental car for the assignment.
Abadiotakis’ trip was scheduled to begin on Wednesday, June 9, and end on Friday, June 11. Shortly before departing, Abadiotakis advised NASA that he wanted to travel to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, following the conclusion of his assignment for personal business. As a result, the agency revised his return date to Sunday, June 13.
Abadiotakis drove the rental car to Jackson for the weekend after completing his TDY. While returning to Ogden at 4:00 a.m. for his return flight home at 10:00 a.m., he hit an elk. Abadiotakis was not injured, but the car was damaged.
The rental car company billed Abadiotakis $2,627.77 for repairing the vehicle. Apparently, this amount represented the collision deductible.
Abadiotakis asked NASA to reimburse him that cost. Uncertain whether it could pay the expense, the agency requested an advance decision from the GSBCA.
The board found that the agency could not reimburse him. It emphasized that FTR section 301-2.2 provides that an agency may pay only those expenses that are essential to the transaction of official business. In addition, it noted that FTR section 301-10.451 provides that employees may be paid only “deductible amounts paid by [an employee]… if the damage occurred while [the employee was] performing official business.”
In this case, the accident did not occur while Abadiotakis was performing official business. In fact, the GSBCA explained that if Abadiotakis had returned as originally scheduled, the incident would not have taken place. Therefore, any expenses Abadiotakis incurred in using the rental car after Friday were his responsibility.
In a similar case, GAO was confronted with the same issue with comparable facts. However, in that case, GAO authorized reimbursement. Why the different result? The employee’s use of the car occurred while “on official government business.”
In the case of Raymond B. Washburn, B-231082, 68 Comp. Gen. 318 (1989), an employee of the Army Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama, was authorized travel to a conference in Orlando, Florida. His orders approved the use of a commercial rental car.
Washburn rented an automobile from Budget Rent-A-Car upon arriving in Orlando. He did not obtain any extra insurance to provide full collision coverage.
The conference ended on April 10. Washburn, however, was not scheduled to return to his permanent duty station until the next day. As a result, he joined other conference attendees for dinner that night, leaving his rental car parked at the Marriott hotel where the meetings had been held. After dinner he was dropped off at his place of lodging, the Hilton Inn. He then remembered that his rental car was still parked at the Marriott, three blocks from the Hilton. Since he and other government employees who had attended the meetings were leaving the Hilton for the airport the following morning in the rental car, he decided to walk to the Marriott and drive the car back to the Hilton parking lot.
While driving from the Marriott parking lot in the rain at 2:00 a.m., Washburn attempted to turn on the windshield wipers and, while looking at the instrument panel, struck the rear of a parked van, substantially damaging the front passenger side of the rental car.
The rental car company billed Washburn $2,100. GAO found that the Army could pay the expense because the accident occurred while Washburn was performing official government business. It explained that the collision occurred while Washburn was driving the rental car from the meeting place to his hotel after having his evening meal. According to GAO, it was essential to the transaction of official business that “the rental vehicle be returned to Washburn’s place of lodging so that he and the other government employees staying at the Hilton would be able to depart for the airport later on the morning of April 11.”
Yes. Executive Order 13513, Federal Leadership on Reducing Text Messaging While Driving, was issued on October 1, 2009. Section 2 states in part that “federal employees shall not engage in text messaging (a) when driving GOV, or when driving POV while on official government business, or (b) when using electronic equipment supplied by the government while driving.”
In part, Section 3 directs agencies “(i) to take appropriate measures to implement this order, (ii) to adopt measures to ensure compliance with section 2 of this order, including through appropriate disciplinary actions, and (iii) to notify the Secretary of Transportation of the measures it undertakes hereunder.”
No, locked-car fees are not reimbursable.
In the CBCA case In the Matter of Lindsay Hum, CBCA 2277-TRAV (Mar. 29, 2011), a Navy civilian employee locked herself out of her rental car while on official travel. She appealed to the CBCA seeking reimbursement for the $55 charge billed by the rental car agency to get back into the car. The CBCA denied her claim.
FTR section 01-2.2 authorizes agencies to pay only those expenses considered essential to conducting official business. The CBCA has previously found that costs associated with entry into a locked vehicle are not essential travel expenses and that locksmith services necessitated by a traveler’s own error are not reimbursable.
In another case, Billy M. Battles, CBCA 1568-TRAV (July 16, 2009), a Food and Drug Administration employee locked himself out of an agency-issued car while performing official duties. Unable to unlock the automobile himself, he called a locksmith to open it, at a cost of $50. Battles submitted a claim to his agency for reimbursement of the locksmith fee, noting that he needed to unlock the car to retrieve equipment that was necessary to perform an investigation. His claim was denied.
In its decision regarding Battles’ claim, the CBCA noted that in reimbursing official local travel expenses, agencies may pay only expenses that are considered “essential to the transaction of official business.” (FTR 301-2.2) In this case, the locksmith fee was not incurred in the performance of official business, but instead by Battles’ own mistake in locking himself out of the car. Moreover, the cost of a locksmith does not qualify as a reimbursable miscellaneous expense under FTR section 301-12.1.
The CBCA’s reasoning was based largely on a previous decision issued by GAO regarding a similar issue. In Robert Berman, B-210928 (Apr. 22, 1983), a NASA employee locked his keys in a rental car while on official travel and protested the denial of his claim for locksmith services. In determining that Berman was not eligible for reimbursement, GAO explained: “Mr. Berman’s action in locking himself out of his car was the proximate cause of his incurring the locksmith fee and, hence, the fee cannot be regarded as essential to the transacting of official business.”
Travelers are entitled to expenses incurred for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and related tips and taxes. Travelers are not entitled to reimbursement for alcoholic beverage and entertainment expenses, nor for any expenses incurred for other persons. Travelers are required to exclude those expenses from their vouchers.
Per diem should be adjusted when a meal is paid for by the government, for example, when a meal is provided as a part of a conference or registration fee. Per diem is not adjusted for complimentary meals provided on a common carrier or at a hotel if there is no additional charge for the meal in the lodging cost.
For example, say a traveler attends a conference that includes three meals as a part of the conference fee. The traveler chooses not to consume two of the meals and purchases meals separate from the conference. Not only will the traveler’s M&IE per diem be reduced to reflect the conference-provided meals, but reimbursement for the separately purchased meals will be denied.
In accordance with FTR section 301-11.18(a), a federal employee is required to deduct any government-furnished meal included in a registration or conference fee. At your agency’s discretion, you may claim full M&IE allowance if you meet the criteria stated in FTR section 301-11.18(b) or (c), which address meal deductions for medical, religious, or official business reasons. However, specific authorization or prior approval is required in accordance with FTR section 301-2.5(p).
Regarding complimentary meals provided by a common carrier or hotel, in CBCA 1900-TRAV, In the Matter of W. Lynn Hodges (May 3, 2010), the Department of Agriculture deducted the value of four breakfast meals from the travel claim of an employee who had traveled to Philadelphia on TDY. The breakfast meals had been provided as complimentary by the hotel where Hodges stayed. The hotel offered a complimentary breakfast to every federal employee staying at the hotel; this offer was advertised on various websites.
The agency cited FTR section 301-11.18 as the basis for deducting the meals, arguing that the meals were provided by the government in connection with an agency meeting.
In reviewing the case, the CBCA found no evidence that the agency specifically negotiated or paid for the breakfasts in question. The letter of intent between the agency and the hotel for the agency meeting listed breakfast as being furnished to the agency’s employees on a complimentary basis. The CBCA therefore found that the breakfasts were indeed complimentary.
FTR section 301-11.17 provides: “A meal provided by a common carrier or a complimentary meal provided by a hotel/motel does not affect your per diem.” Because the breakfasts had been provided at no cost to the agency, the CBCA found that the agency could not deduct them from the employee’s claim. The CBCA directed the Department of Agriculture to repay the deduction to Hodges.
Your agency, at its discretion, may allow you to claim the full M&IE allowance if:
You were unable to consume the furnished meals because of medical requirements or religious beliefs
In accordance with administrative procedures prescribed by your agency, you requested specific approval to claim the full M&IE allowance prior to your travel
In accordance with administrative procedures prescribed by your agency, you made a reasonable effort to make alternative meal arrangements but were unable to do so
You purchased substitute meals in accordance with your medical requirements or religious beliefs
You were unable to take part in a government-furnished meal due to the conduct of official business.
As a general rule, without specific statutory authority, employees may not be paid subsistence expense or furnished free meals by the government at their permanent duty station. However, an exception to this prohibition is provided under 5 U.S.C. 4110 (1988), which states: “Appropriations available to an agency for travel expenses are available for expenses of attendance at meetings which are concerned with the functions or activities for which the appropriation is made or which will contribute to improved conduct, supervision, or management of the functions or activities.”
Therefore, an agency may pay for food at conferences and events when the cost is included as an incidental and is nonseparable from the registration or attendance fee under the Government Employees Training Act (5 U.S.C. 4109 and 4110), regardless of the employee’s location. If the cost of the food is separable or is not included in the registration or attendance fee, the agency head may determine that the meal is a necessary expense in order to obtain the full benefit of the event.
Those in a travel status will have their per diem reduced as stated in question #163 in accordance with FTR section 301-11.18, and those not in a travel status will be entitled to have the meals and snacks as an integral part of the meeting.
Miscellaneous and incidental expenses are intended to cover certain necessary travel and transportation-related expenses incurred for official business.
The following items may be reimbursed as a miscellaneous expense when they have been authorized or approved by your agency. In addition, lodging taxes are reimbursable when lodging is authorized and is not related to foreign travel.
|General expenses||Fees to obtain money||Special expenses of foreign travel|
Baggage expenses as described in FTR 301-12.2
Services of guides, interpreters, drivers
Services of an attendant as described in §301-13.3
Use of computers, printers, faxing machines, and scanners
Services of typists, data processors, or stenographersStorage of property used on official business
Hire of conference center room or hotel room for official business
Official telephone calls/service. Faxes, telegrams, cablegrams, or radiograms
Lodging taxes as prescribed in §301-11.27
Laundry, cleaning and pressing of clothing expenses as prescribed in §301-11.31
Energy surcharge and lodging resort fee(s) (when such fee(s) is/are not optional)
Fees for traveler’s checks
Fees for money orders
Fees for certified checks
Transaction fees for use of automated teller machines (ATMs)—government contractor-issued charge card
Commissions on conversion of foreign currency
Passport and/or visa fees, including fees for a physical examination if one is required to obtain a passport and/or visa and such examination could not be obtained at a government facility. Reimbursement for such fees may include travel and transportation costs to the passport/visa issuing office if located outside the local commuting area of the employee’s official station and the traveler’s presence at that office is mandatory.
Costs of photographs for passports and visas
Foreign country exit fees
Costs of birth, health, and identity certificates
Charges for inoculations that cannot be obtained through a federal dispensary
Agencies may reimburse the following baggage expenses:
Transportation charges for authorized excess.
Necessary charges for transferring baggage.
Necessary charges for storage of baggage when such charges are the result of official business.
All fees pertaining to the first checked bag. In addition, charges relating to the second and subsequent bags may be reimbursed when the agency determines that those expenses are necessary and in the interest of the government.
Charges or tips at transportation terminals for handling government property carried by the traveler.
Agencies must establish policies and procedures regarding who determines when excess baggage is necessary for official travel.
No. Curbside baggage check-in is considered a personal convenience, and the traveler is therefore responsible for the fee.
Unless your agency has specific provisions under its appropriations act or other legislation, it may not use appropriated funds to purchase toiletries and articles of personal clothing that may be retained for personal use. The GSBCA, however, has ruled that clothing does not qualify as a “necessary” or “miscellaneous” expense.
In GSBCA 15030-TRAV, In the Matter of Thomas J. May (July 29, 1999), a civilian employee of the Air Force flew to Tyndall Air Force Base on a military aircraft to complete a TDY assignment. He arrived on a Sunday. Unfortunately, the Air Force misplaced May’s suitcase. As a result, he had no spare clothing for his first day of work on Monday.
May started his TDY assignment wearing the same clothes he had arrived in the day before. That evening he purchased a pair of pants and three shirts. The Air Force subsequently located May’s luggage and returned it to him on Tuesday.
After returning from his TDY, May submitted a voucher for the cost of the clothing he had purchased. He argued that the clothes should qualify as a miscellaneous expense under paragraph C4709 of the JTR. The Air Force refused to reimburse the expense, so May appealed to the GSBCA.
The GSBCA agreed with the Air Force’s rejection of the voucher. According to the JTR, military services may reimburse employees only for miscellaneous expenses that are “incurred during the performance of their temporary duties in connection with the transaction of official business.”
The JTR identifies several miscellaneous expenses for which employees may be reimbursed: (1) use of computers and printers, (2) hiring a typist or stenographer, (3) renting storage, and (4) traveler check and passport fees. The GSBCA emphasized that each of these expenses provides a direct and primary benefit to the government. May’s purchase of clothing, however, did not primarily benefit the government; rather, May could use the clothing for his own personal benefit. To support its ruling, the board cited decisions from the Comptroller General (CG), which held jurisdiction over travel appeals before the GSBCA assumed that role in 1996. In several cases, the CG had ruled that employees could not be reimbursed for renting clothing while on travel. According to the CG, employees should not be reimbursed for items while on travel that they would normally have to purchase to perform their duties at their permanent location.
The GSBCA found no reason to treat the purchase of new clothing differently from the precedent set by the CG for renting the same items.
In accordance with FTR section 301-10.421, an agency has discretion to determine a reasonable amount for tips. Therefore, an employee may not be reimbursed the full amount spent on tips if that amount exceeds the amount the agency considers “reasonable.”
An agency can disallow payment of a claimed item if a traveler does not provide proper itemization of an expense; does not provide a receipt or other documentation required to support the traveler’s claim; or claims an expense that is not authorized.
The agency will issue the employee a notice of disallowance and will pay the claim for those items that are allowed.
The traveler must:
File a new claim
Provide full itemization for all disallowed items reclaimed
Provide receipts for all disallowed items reclaimed that require receipts (unless the agency already has the receipt)
Provide a copy of the notice of disallowance
State the proper authority for the claim if you are challenging the agency’s application of the law or statute
Follow your agency’s procedures for challenging disallowed claims.
Unfortunately, official travel is sometimes interrupted for an emergency. Interrupted travel is usually defined as “emergency” travel that results from:
Your becoming incapacitated by illness or injury not due to your own misconduct
The death or serious illness of a member of your family
A catastrophic occurrence or impending disaster, such as fire, flood, or act of God that directly affects your home.
If you have to interrupt or discontinue your TDY travel, contact your travel authorizing/approving official for instructions as soon as possible.
“Family” includes any member of your immediate family as defined in FTR section 300-3.1. However, your agency may, on a case-by-case basis, expand this definition to include other members of your or your spouse’s or domestic partner’s extended family.
Your agency may pay:
Per diem at the location where you were treated for incapacitating illness or injury for a reasonable period of time (generally 14 calendar days). However, your agency may choose to pay for a longer period.
Transportation and per diem expense for travel to an alternate location to receive medical treatment.
Transportation and per diem expenses to return to your official station.
Transportation costs of a medically necessary attendant.
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 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).”