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Recently, I heard a Government manager say, “Perception is reality”. Nothing could be truer when it comes to Government travel. As public servants, we are traveling on the public’s dime, so to speak. We must remain cognizant of this at all times. Even the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) brings this point home in §301-2.3:
“You must exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on personal business.”
One of the areas where this is extremely important is premium class travel. Premium class includes both business class and first class. It is best described as any class other then coach class for air travel and any class other than the lowest class available on a train. It is important to note that on the Amtrak Acela Express, the lowest class available is business class and is deemed advantageous to the Government and no further agency approval is needed (FTR §301-10.164).
Even though the FTR is specific on when you can authorize premium class accommodations, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that internal control weaknesses governmentwide led to improper use of premium class travel as stated in their September 2007 study. Some of these weaknesses included lack of tracking and knowledge of amount of business class travel being authorized, issuing less restrictive guidance for executive travelers, large differences in premium class travel guidance governmentwide, and no reporting requirements by GAO or GSA on business class travel.
A follow-up Memorandum was issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in January 2008 to remind agency heads of the premium class travel requirements as stated in the FTR and the importance of having clearly defined internal controls in place to ensure proper authorization of premium class accommodations. The Memorandum stated that GSA would be revising the FTR to implement the GAO findings. In the meantime, GAO asked agencies to implement the following policy requirements internally immediately:
- Require that premium class travel requests for all agency personnel, including senior level executives be approved by an individual at least at the same level as the traveler, or by an office designated to approve premium class travel;
- Develop and issue internal guidance that explains when mission criteria and intent call for premium class accommodations;
- Define what constitutes a rest period;
- Require annual certifications of a disability, unless such disability is lifelong;
- Restrict premium class travel for both temporary duty and permanent change of station travel (relocations) when the employee is not required to report to duty the following day; and,
- Prohibit blanket travel authorizations for premium class travel, unless the traveler has a certification of disability.
OMB also stated that GSA is in the process of preparing agency guidance to collect and report on business class travel, similar to the existing first class travel report requirement. OMB will also begin working with Executive branch agencies to develop a risk-based review, reporting, and audit framework for premium class travel.
The agency I work for implemented the GAO requirements listed above into our current travel policy. We are patiently waiting to see what policy changes GSA will be adding to the FTR. We have begun collecting data on business class travel even though we have not yet received a formal request from GSA. Hopefully, stricter travel policy and reporting requirements will reduce or eliminate the misuse and abuse of premium class travel.
by Angela Williamson
“The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.”