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For those of us who work for the government and with travel policy, we have heard the words “prudence” or “prudent” many times. What do these words mean and more importantly, what do they mean to each of us as individuals?
Dictionaries give us many definitions for prudence and prudent. Care, caution, discretion, frugal, responsible, sensible, and thrifty are a few of the definitions for these words. How are they applied by the government traveler?
What does the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) say about being prudent? FTR 301-10.123 basically states that the prudent person should use the same care in incurring expenses that would be spent on personal travel. Most individuals use their personal money wisely and try to get the most value from their dollars. How would the prudent business owner spend money? I am sure there would be a great degree of frugality. Efforts would be made to keep spending as low as possible in order to make a profit.
Government travelers and their agencies have a responsibility to spend their travel budgets wisely. The money that is being spent belongs to other people; in other words, the taxpayer. Common sense and good judgment must be exercised when preparing for and executing travel.
Recently, government agencies have come under scrutiny because of their use (or rather misuse) of travel funds. This spotlight contributes to the public distrust of the government. There are many prudent travelers in government agencies that spend travel funds with great care.
The prudent traveler has an approved travel authorization in place before beginning temporary duty (TDY) travel. The authorization details the allowable expenses and obligates the travel funds to ensure that funding is available.
Some agencies will allow their travelers to use penalty fares rather than the flights negotiated by the General Services Administration (GSA) in the City Pair Program (CPP). Penalty fares may be cheaper but if travel must be cancelled or changed, any penalty applied could exceed the cost of a flight in the CPP. The prudent government traveler is sure that travel will take place before using a penalty fare.
Combining personal travel with official travel can be authorized. The trip must be planned with the agency’s mission in mind, not the convenience of the traveler. A government traveler will make common carrier arrangements for official travel with the agency’s Travel Management Center (TMC). Any additional costs because of personal deviation from the official travel will be the personal responsibility of the traveler. The prudent government traveler makes the arrangements with this in mind.
There may be times when the traveler is authorized a method of transportation but chooses to use an alternate method of transportation for personal reasons. The prudent traveler does a cost comparison and vouchers for the lesser expense.
The prudent traveler checks with the fleet department within the agency to see if a government vehicle (GOV) is available for travel. This eliminates the personally owned vehicle (POV) mileage expense. If a GOV is available and the traveler wants to take his own vehicle, he reduces his POV amount.
During the course of official travel, a rental car may be required. What if the government traveler adds a few days of personal leave to the beginning or ending of his official trip? The prudent traveler lets the rental car agency know what is official and what is personal. The rental car company can then charge the traveler the appropriate amount for the official portion of the rental which the traveler can claim on his voucher. The prudent traveler takes responsibility for the personal portion of the rental car expense and any required insurance.
Adding personal leave to an official trip will require a reduction in the per diem. The prudent government traveler claims only those hotel expenses or meals and incidentals (M&IE) that are official. Upon occasion, meals may be provided whether it be at a training event or a conference. The prudent traveler reduces his meal by the allowed meal amount.
The prudent traveler is aware of a hotel’s cancellation policy. If travel must be cancelled, the hotel is called before the cancellation window closes. It is quite possible the traveler could be charged a penalty for not cancelling timely. Using a FedRooms property reduces the risk of a cancellation fee as travelers can cancel up to the time of check-in on the day of arrival.
What about the use of a taxi? There are times when a taxi may be practical but the prudent government traveler looks at the use of public transportation such as the metro or subway and available bus routes before using a taxi.
The prudent traveler vouchers promptly. The voucher is the true cost of the travel and closes the obligation. This frees up any remaining obligation for additional travel, if necessary. The prudent traveler uses the split disbursement process if available within the agency and ensures that funds are sent to the government travel charge card.
A prudent traveler has a prudent approving official. Not only is the traveler responsible for knowing the FTR and any agency policy, the approving official is as well. Both are wise enough to ask questions when in doubt. The approving official is responsible for the department’s budget allowance and uses good judgment to ensure that it is spent wisely.
Every day, there are government employees that exercise prudence when traveling or approving travel costs when travel must be performed in order to accomplish an agency’s mission. Let’s put the spotlight on them!
The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.