GSA raises per diem for federal travel

The Government Services Administration announced some good news for federal employees: As of October, when government workers travel, their per diem rates will increase slightly—a positive sign for the beleaguered Association and for federal travel as an industry.

In a blog post on the GSA’s website, Anne Rung, Associate Administrator of Government-wide Policy, explained that each year’s per diem rates are based on local market costs. The rates provide caps, or the maximum amounts, that can be reimbursed to federal employees on lodging and meals while on official travel. It also provides agencies with the policies and tools needed to reduce costs. This year, federal per diem rates are 5 percent below the average daily rate of the market.

As the GSA explains on its website, the per diem rate for an area in the continental 48 United States is actually three allowances: the lodging allowance, the meals allowance and the incidental expense allowance. The new per diem rate is now $129 ($83 lodging, $46 meals and incidental expenses). In fiscal year 2014, there are approximately 2,600 counties that will get the new rates, while 400 Non-Standard Areas (NSAs) will get per diem rates higher than the standard rate for the mainland states.

Government Executive reported that federal employees visiting cities with high costs of living, such as New York City, will receive inflated reimbursements. On the other hand, Federal Times noted that the per diem rate for the Washington, D.C. area will fall in fiscal year 2014. The lodging rate for the month of September will drop from $226 a night to $219 a night.

The Times also noted that the GSA will end a policy that allowed federal employees to spend 25 percent above per diem rates for conferences, which will save agencies an estimated $10 million in fiscal 2014, according to the agency

The lodging per diem increased from $77 in fiscal year 2013, while the meals portion held steady. GSA did not increase the federal per diem last year.

Government travel spending has declined in recent months following scandals both within the GSA and the IRS.

In her blog post, Rung noted the efforts of the Administration to cut travel and conference spending. “We have implemented strict policies and controls to ensure that all travel and conference expenditures are cost-effective and advancing the goals of federal agencies,” she wrote, noting that these agencies have lowered their spending on travel by approximately $2 billion to date.

Rung also noted that travel by federal employees is sometimes necessary. “As each agency reviews its travel and conference-related activities, each agency must ensure that any spending serves the American people as efficiently and effectively as possible,” she wrote.