GSA freezes per diem rates at 2012 levels

Move is part of a governmentwide effort to curb travel spending.

Government travel per diem rates will not change in fiscal 2013, according to the General Services Administration.

GSA announced Tuesday that it will freeze fiscal 2013 travel reimbursement rates for lodging and other related expenses at fiscal 2012 levels. The move is part of the Office of Management and Budget’s directive to agencies to reduce all travel spending in fiscal 2013 by 30 percent compared to fiscal 2010.

“By keeping per diem rates at current levels, we are supporting federal agencies in controlling costs and ensuring that taxpayer dollars are used wisely,” acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini said in a statement.

GSA establishes per diem rates for lodging, meal and incidental expenses in the continental United States. A standard per diem is applied in locations less commonly traveled by federal workers, while nonstandard areas frequently visited are granted individual rates based on the average daily industry rate.

The standard lodging rate, which covers hotels in 2,600 counties nationwide, is currently $77 a night and the standard per diem meal rate is $46. Lodging and meal per diem rates vary according to region and time of year, however. For example, 2012 lodging rates for Washington range from $183 to $226; in New York City, the lodging per diem ranges from $204 to $295. The 2012 per diem meal and incidental expenses rate for Washington and for New York City is $71.

Fiscal 2013 per diem rates take effect Oct. 1.

Freezing the per diem rates at fiscal 2012 levels is less harmful than one of the alternatives, said Shawn McBurney, senior vice president of governmental affairs at the American Hotel and Lodging Association. GSA reportedly was considering changes to the methodology it uses to calculate lodging rates for government travelers. Hotel and lodging industry officials warned that lower per diem rates would mean fewer choices for federal travelers, particularly in more expensive urban areas.

“It could have been a lot worse,” McBurney said.

He said it’s not clear yet what kind of impact freezing the rates will have, especially since per diems are just one part of the overall federal travel spending picture. OMB’s directive to decrease travel spending also affects training and conference budgets. McBurney said freezing per diem rates could mean fewer options for government travelers in areas where lodging expenses increase next year. But it might not make a difference if the government cuts back overall on travel, he added.

GSA has been under fire during the past several months for lavish spending on conferences and other travel billed to taxpayers. House lawmakers blasted the agency during a congressional hearing over charges that it awarded excessive bonuses to employees.

The Veterans Affairs Department is the latest government agency to face an investigation into its conference spending.

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