Must a Federal Employee Prepare a Travel Authorization Prior to Travel?

» Posted by on Jan 26, 2013 in Business Practices, Electronic Travel Systems, Payment Methods | 0 comments

Our agency’s travel office receives inquiries regarding why a travel authorization is required prior to going on official business travel.  In answer to this inquiry here are some reasons why a travel authorization is of benefit for the federal agency as well as being generally required.  According to the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR) Chapter 301-2.1:

§301-2.1  Must I have authorization to travel?

Yes, generally you must have written or electronic authorization prior to incurring any travel expense. If it is not practicable or possible to obtain such authorization prior to travel, your agency may approve a specific authorization for reimbursement of travel expenses after travel is completed. However, written or electronic advance authorization is required for items in §301-2.5(c), (i), (n), and (o) of this part.

In addition, when available to the agency, the employee must use the E-Gov Travel Services in compliance to FTR Chapter 301-50.3.  The E-Gov Travel Services requires the employee to prepare an electronic travel authorization to make travel arrangements through on-line booking. Besides generally being required by the FTR, the electronic travel authorization provides a method for the federal agency to streamline document processing, monitor travel activity and manage travel funds.

The federal agency has the responsibility to insure federal funds are spent efficiently and responsibly.  Travel budgets are closely monitored.  The travel manager is tasked with the duty to insure travel is performed in the most economical and effective manner while still meeting the agency’s mission.  By preparing a travel authorization prior to the employee incurring the expenses, the financial manager and approving official can review the employee’s travel plans and determine whether or not the trip is in agreement with the agency’s financial accountability and mission.

In preparing the authorization the federal employee provides information to the approving official regarding why the travel is necessary, how the trip will be accomplished, and what expenses he expects to incur while on travel. Once the employee has submitted the request to perform travel with the estimated cost of the trip, the program office will identify how the costs of the travel will be paid and assigns a funding source.  The funding source classifies where the money is coming from to reimburse the employee for the travel expenses.  It identifies what budgetary fund, program office, project code, and reporting category that will be paying for the travel expenses.

Based on the information provided in the authorization, the approving official can determine if the requested trip is in alignment with the agency’s mission.  He can confirm that the expenses incurred are reasonable and are reimbursable according to the Federal Travel Regulations and within the agency’s internal travel policy.  He can verify that funds are available and being properly used to reimburse the employee for his cost incurred and/or pay any travel vendors directly, if appropriate.

If the approving official agrees with the outlined travel arrangements and expenses submitted by the employee, he will electronically affix his signature to the authorization, thereby giving permission for the employee to incur travel cost and authorizing the travel service providers to use the federal travel programs to arrange for transportation and/or hotel accommodations for the employee.  The signed authorization gives the finance office the go-ahead to obligate federal funds in anticipation of the future expenditures.

Once the authorization is approved and transmitted to the federal financial accounting system, it is recorded as a financial obligation for the federal agency.  The funding source provided in the authorization allows the budget officer and travel manager to track the use of funds for financial reporting and accountability.  The data captured in the accounting system can be retrieved and analyzed by the financial officer to evaluate the agency’s travel program and assist with financial decisions regarding their travel activity.

The electronic authorization has a built in audit features that assures the approving official that regulatory requirements are met.  It populates the travel voucher with the estimated costs reducing the time spent by the employee to prepare his voucher to claim reimbursement.  The employee only needs to update the expenses to actual costs and attach pertinent receipts for the approving officials review and signature.

In summary, the electronic authorization streamlines the voucher preparation and approval process by automatically forwarding data from the authorization to the electronic voucher. The authorization includes financial information needed by the finance office to assure funds are available and spent in accordance to budgetary plans and the Federal Travel Regulations.  It also identifies the purpose of the travel, so that the approving official can determine the necessity of the travel to meet the federal agency’s mission and financial accountability. It provides the documentation needed by the travel service provider to book transportation and hotel accommodations taking advantage of the Government travel programs. The travel authorization conveys information to the employee regarding the travel expenses that are reimbursable to him by his agency.  The travel authorization is the federal agency’s consent for their employee to travel using the Government’s resources.

By Regina Potter

The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.

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