Using per diem allowances to pad reimbursements for business travel happens. It’s not supposed to, but it does. One way the federal government tries to manage the risk is by setting limits on what employees can recover for expenses incurred for work-related travel.
The latest standards in this regard were recently announced and are due to take effect as of Oct. 1. The good news for workers is that the General Services Administration has approved an increase in the per diem rate. The less good news is that it covers only housing expenses and the hike amounts to just $2 a day for hotel stays over current rates. The rate will go from $91 to $93. The per diem for meals and incidental expenses remains the same at $51.
The problem with padding
Breaching the per diem rates is something that government money managers take very seriously. All the confirmation one needs can be found in the various stories making the news at any given time. For example, there’s the matter of a former Wyoming Community Development Authority executive under investigation for alleged fraud in use of federal grant money, including taking expensive trips.
Elected officials are a viable target of government watchdogs, too, as a story out of New York reflects.
As with all things government, the matter of per diem reimbursement is a complicated thing. The GSA rates, based on average daily rates, cover travel within the continental U.S. If you go to Alaska, Hawaii or a U.S. Territory, the Defense Department sets the rates. Travel to foreign locales is handled by the State Department.
The $93 per diem for lodging is not a hard and fast number. It can vary depending on many factors. But the GSA makes clear that if you are faced with a hotel stay that exceeds that amount, you have to get approval for it before taking the trip. Once on the road, getting receipts for everything is crucial.
Government work comes with lots of rules and regulations. It can be easy to fall afoul of them and find yourself having to fight for your rights, benefits and your good name. Should the issue result in an investigation and potential discipline, consider consulting an experienced federal labor law attorney.