Per diem rate changes coming

Per diem rate changes coming

Federal per diem rates for two travel destinations have been revised, and more per diem changes are on the way, according to the General Services Administration.

GSA has raised the 1999 per diem rates for Fort Worth, Texas and the Great Neck area of Nassau County, New York.

GSA raised the maximum lodging rate for Fort Worth from $69 a day to $94 a day, and separated the Great Neck area out from the rest of Nassau County. While the Nassau County maximum lodging rate is $70 and the meals and incidental expenses rate is $38, the Great Neck area's maximum lodging rate is $190 and the area's meals and incidental expenses rate is $42.

The changed rates can be applied retroactively through Jan. 1.

GSA may revise 1999 rates for other areas as well, based on complaints from federal travelers that this year's per diem rates in some areas aren't high enough to cover lodging expenses. In the past, a city and its suburbs shared the same lodging rate. This year, GSA came up with different rates for cities and their surrounding jurisdictions in 23 major metropolitan areas (such as Washington, Denver and Los Angeles) and 69 "blended" areas (such as Nassau-Suffolk counties in New York and the Virginia Beach-Williamsburg area).

GSA has also sent letters to Federal Executive Boards around the country, asking them to identify places that need to have per diem rate changes next year. Federal Executive Boards are regional groups of the top executives of all federal agencies represented in a city or state. With the early input of federal travelers, GSA hopes to reduce the confusion the per diem rate changes caused this year.

"We're expecting a much smoother year in the year 2000," said Bill Rivers, acting director of the travel management policy division at GSA.

In the meantime, GSA may also permit federal travelers to spend more money on lodging when they attend conferences. Travelers have complained to GSA that rates at conference hotels tend to be higher than the government per diem, because conferences are typically held at more expensive hotels. GSA is considering a rule change that would give conference attendees a higher maximum per diem rate. Such a rule change may be proposed in the Federal Register later this year.

GSA is also setting up a pilot program in the Boston area to contract directly with hotels on behalf of government travelers. Under the pilot program, the government would commit to providing hotels with federal business in return for guaranteed rooms at guaranteed rates. The program is modeled after the Army's Lodging Success program, through which the service has negotiated discounted lodging rates in the Washington, San Antonio, Atlanta and other areas. GSA has tapped the Army to do the contracting work for the governmentwide pilot program as well. If the Boston pilot program works, GSA plans to expand the model to other cities.

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