OCTOBER 29, 2014, WASHINGTON (AFNS) – The Defense Department recently implemented two TDY policy changes impacting travel reimbursements for Airmen.
The first change took effect Oct. 1, and made changes to the Joint Travel Regulations (JTR), Reimbursable and Incidental Expense Policy. The second will be a change in long-term TDY per diem expenses and takes effect Nov. 1.
Referencing the new policy for incidental expenses, contiguous U.S. (CONUS) laundry expenses, tips to baggage handlers by uniformed members and ATM fees are among those now considered part of the incidental expense portion of per diem, thus they are no longer reimbursable as separate miscellaneous expenses. These expenses will now be added to the current list which includes such items as tips to porters, baggage carriers, bellhops, hotel maids, stewards and stewardesses.
Per the Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO), the changes will simplify the travel regulation policy to align the DOD with industry best practices and to reduce travel costs for DOD.
The rate for incidental expenses will remain at $5 per day for CONUS locations and will vary according to outside CONUS locations.
In a review of travel vouchers, the DTMO found only 13.27 percent claimed ATM fees, 4.2 percent claimed CONUS laundry and .04 percent claimed transportation tips.
If incidental expenses go over the set amount (over the entire TDY period) and travelers can justify the expense (with receipts for all expenses), they can work with their approving officials to authorize actual expense allowance (AEA) for the meals and incidental expense (M&IE) portion of per diem.
Personnel who began travel before Oct. 1, can still be reimbursed under the old policy as long as the expense was incurred before the new date.
The flat-rate per diem policy change will encourage travelers to take advantage of cost-saving opportunities for long-term travel – spending 31 days or more in a single location.
Additionally, it will urge travelers to work with hotels that have discounted rates for extended stays, usually more than 30 days, thereby saving tax-payer dollars.
The change to the regulation will provide for a flat-rate per diem expense based upon length of stay. The flat-rate will be as follows:
– On travel day to location: 100 percent of lodging per diem at the locality rate and 75 percent of M&IE
– For TDYs that are 31 to 180 days: flat rate of 75 percent of the locality rate (lodging/M&IE) for each full day, starting day two through the end of the TDY
– For those TDYs (approved by the appropriate authority per JTR) for greater than 180 days: flat rate of 55 percent locality rate is authorized for each full day, starting day two through the last night at the TDY location, then 75 percent of M&IE on the return travel day
The DOD believes for extended TDYs there are opportunities to obtain a better lodging rate. Also, when a traveler forecasts out and determines that after 30 days he/she is going to get 75 or 55 percent of per diem, they can find a hotel to stay in to meet that cost and capitalize on better food expenditures over the course of the long-term TDY.
However, there are exceptions to the policy.
It depends on if one is staying in government quarters or not. Also, if one is going to an area where the cost for all hotels is going to max out the lodging, and a flat rate is not available, authorizing officials can authorize AEA only after confirming there is no other lodging with the Commercial Travel Office. There are methods to paying the higher cost in situations where a traveler can’t get the reduced rate. In other words, any traveler unable to find suitable commercial lodging at the flat rate should contact their CTO for assistance. If both the traveler and the CTO determine that lodging is not available at the flat rate, the authorizing offical may authorize reimbursement of the actual lodging expense (not to exceed the locality per diem rate). However, the traveler will receive M&IE at the flat rate.
In all instances, the traveler should work with their local CTO to secure a hotel.
Although DTMO has stated “travelers will not be required to submit a lodging receipt,” the Air Force will require a lodging receipt on all travel vouchers to support the claim. The receipt is necessary backup on the voucher to justify the proper reimbursement of taxes, leave periods, and verification a lodging expense was incurred just to name a few instances. To simplify when a receipt should be required and reduce confusion the Air Force will require it on all travel vouchers.
To help travelers better plan for their long-term TDY cost, they should visit the DTMO website ‘Per Diem Rates Query’ page, available by clicking here. It includes the breakdown of per diem for the respective flat rate. Travelers can use it to project their per diem entitlement, and update DTS per diem entitlements with these amounts, if applicable.
Some other rules that will apply under this policy change are as follows:
– Flat rate lodging per diem does not apply when government or contracted government lodging is available or provided at no cost to the traveler.
– If meals are provided or government meals are available and directed, the traveler will be paid the Government Meal Rate, Proportional Meal Rate and Incidental Expense portion of per diem
– If the traveler is staying with friends/relatives at the TDY location, they will not receive the lodging portion of per diem
Until DTS can accommodate calculating the flat-rate per diem, a manual computation will be required, and the applicable lodging per diem rate will need to be edited for input into DTS.
According to DTMO, the DOD estimates they will save on both policy changes more than $37 million annually. To access the DTMO website, click here.