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Government travel represents only a small portion of government spending. When dealing with taxpayer dollars however, government employees are and should be held highly accountable. The government traveler should exercise the highest level of ethical behavior to avoid any repercussions that could arise from public perception. The newspapers and television stations are always anxious to report stories concerning government officials using the taxpayer’s money to fund personal vacations or lavish accommodations stating it was for official government business. And that, my fellow Americans, is the fleecing of America. Consistent enforcement of travel policies is needed to ensure waste, fraud, or abuse does not occur and also to avoid even the perception of inappropriate behavior or activity.
In the world of government travel, there are many checks and balances in place to assure procedures are followed. The Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) is a valuable tool to refer to when a government traveler has questions regarding what is right and what is questionable. Reservations, ticketing, and per diem allowances have to comply with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), Defense Acquisition Regulation (DAR), Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) or Joint Travel Regulation (JTR) according to the employing branch of the government. These regulations are easily accessible on-line.
Listed below are a few things that all government travelers should be aware of:
- With approval from your supervisor and travel approving official, it is okay to add personal days to an official trip. Keep in mind, it should not appear the main purpose of the trip was to accommodate your personal travel plans. Any additional expenses incurred due to personal travel are not reimbursable and cannot be charged to your government travel card. These expenses may include lodging expenses for personal days if it is a holiday or weekend, additional baggage fees, or airport parking fees for extra personal days.
- A rental car that is authorized for official business can also be combined with personal travel days. The traveler will need to inform the rental car company so that personal days can be billed on a separate contract to a personal credit card. The rental agency may charge a different rate for the personal travel portion of the trip.
- City Pair Fares may not be used for personal travel. However if a rental car company or hotel offers a discount to Government employees whether or not they are on official business, then it may be possible to use the discount for personal travel. Employees are not allowed to solicit the discount and the discount must be offered to all Government employees.
- You can only use your government travel card for your official expenses. Never charge another traveler’s expenses to your government travel card.
- Submit a travel voucher in a timely manner. The Federal Travel Regulation states a traveler should voucher within five (5) working days from the completion of travel or every 30 days if you are in a continuous travel status. Vouchering in a timely manner will avoid any travel card delinquency issues.
- If a traveler attempts to defraud the government, they could be fined up to $10,000 or face up to five (5) years imprisonment.
- Individuals who have a delinquent debt to the US Government may have been referred to the Treasury Offset Program (TOP). The Treasury Offset Program is a centralized offset program used to collect delinquent debts owed to federal agencies and/or states. Some of the debts that are referred include unpaid student loans, child support, and VA home loans. If a traveler is referred to the Treasury Offset Program (TOP), their travel advance or travel reimbursement could be reduced. This could also affect the amount that is split disbursed to the travel charge card vendor. It is the responsibility of the traveler to pay the charge card vendor to avoid delinquency.
- Federal employees may not accept gifts given to them because of their official position. Gifts involving travel-related expenses in some instances may be accepted in connection with official duties on behalf of the agency itself, rather than the employee, when the agency has gift acceptance authority. This authority would be granted by ethics officials within the agency prior to travel. Any gift accepted without such authority could be viewed as illegal augmentation of the agency’s appropriation. There is also limited authority for the acceptance of certain gifts by employees individually that are associated with training or widely attended gatherings such as conferences. These also require prior approval of your agency ethics officials.
If a question arises concerning gifts that you are offered that have any connection with your Government position, including gifts associated with official travel, consult your agency ethics official.
By: Sue Burton
The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.