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I’m sure that there are many questions about the use or abuse of the Government SmartPay 2 travel card, and I will try to explain a few of the issues I have encountered in my Government travel experience.
One question is in regards to the type of travel card an agency chooses to use. My agency has chosen an individually billed travel card that travelers use to pay for hotels, rental cars, and other travel expenses. Airline tickets are generally charged to my agency’s centrally-billed account. I wonder, though, why my agency has not chosen a travel card where the lodging is directly billed to the Government. As an agency, we could save a lot of money because a number of localities waive lodging taxes when the lodging costs are billed directly to the Government. Evidently the numbers on the travel card indicate to a hotel that the lodging will be billed to the Government and not to the traveler, so then the hotel can waive the lodging taxes. In high lodging tax areas such as Washington, DC, we could save a lot of our travel budget by not having to pay lodging taxes.
But perhaps the reason some agencies choose not to bill lodging costs directly to the Government is because of the risk of fraud. Or maybe the reconciliation of the centrally-billed lodging amounts would be too much work to justify the use of an agency-billed travel card for lodging.
Another question I have is in regards to reimbursement of ATM fees when a traveler uses a personal credit card instead of the Government travel card. My understanding is that the ATM fees should only be reimbursable when a traveler uses the official Government travel card and not his personal credit card. But the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR) are ambiguous on this point, and my agency’s local travel office has told a traveler that she could be reimbursed for ATM fees incurred when she used her personal credit/debit card. So it would be helpful if the FTR could be more direct about the reimbursable circumstances of ATM fees.
Something else I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t seem that the mandatory use of the Government travel card is enforced. I know there are exceptions to the mandatory use of the SmartPay 2 card, but I think some travelers who have a SmartPay card nonetheless chose to use their personal credit card in order to get credit card points/rewards. To my knowledge, there is no penalty for those who (without a valid exception) use their own credit card instead of the Government travel card, thereby reducing the cash back amount which the Government receives for use of the official travel card.
By K.J. Martin
*NB: The above post is my personal opinion, and does not reflect the opinion of my agency or of the Federal Government.*