Federal Travel Per Diem Rises, but No More Conference Allocation
After a year-long freeze on travel per diem increases, the U.S. government is raising its lodging stipend for federal employees. That's welcome news for association event planners, but another change will rein in conference spending even further.
The federal government realizes that travel is still essential and that per diem rates need to rise with inflation.
But new rules for the 2014 fiscal year, laid out last week by the General Services Administration (GSA), come with a big downside for the event industry. More details:
The good news: Federal employees are receiving slightly larger stipends for hotel rooms in what it classifies as “standard” areas of the continental U.S., a boost from the current $77 to $83 starting October 1. Lodging per diem rates for higher-cost, “nonstandard” locations will remain higher, but several places that once qualified for the higher rate—including Jacksonville, Florida, and Montgomery, Alabama—no longer will. The stipend for meals and incidental expenses, which currently ranges from $46 to $71 per day, will stay the same. GSA notes that the federal per diem rates are 5 percent below the average daily rates of the local markets.
The bad news: In keeping with the trend of trimming federal conference spending, the GSA will eliminate the per diem allocation for conferences that had allowed travelers to spend 25 percent above the average rates during conferences and annual meetings. The move, estimated to save the government $10 million per year, is just one method the government is using to comply with mandatory travel spending cuts. “For many public servants, travel is a necessary part of their jobs,” Anne Rung, the GSA’s associate administrator of government-wide policy, wrote in a statement. “As each agency reviews its travel and conference-related activities, each agency must ensure that any spending serves the American people as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
GSA said it is working on other ways to cut travel spending while allowing for necessary travel needs. For example, the agency recently awarded 10 major carriers contracts for its Airline City Pair Program, which allows federal employees to get significantly discounted airfares, for the 2014 fiscal year. According to GSA, the program saves taxpayers about $2.2 billion per year.
The agency, which was at the center of a conference-spending scandal dating back to a 2010 GSA event in Las Vegas, has cut its own travel budget severely. One measure of the cuts—the usage of the federal SmartPay travel-expense credit card program—shows a 63 percent decline in travel spending in the agency during the current fiscal year through July. GSA says it has cut its travel spending by $28 million in the current fiscal year.