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GSA employee works for Kansas City office, lives in Honolulu

Government has spent $24,000 on the teleworker’s travel in the past year.

While sun, palm trees and the clear waters of Waikiki are only the stuff of daydreams for most Kansas City, Mo.-based federal employees, they are extremely close to home for at least one General Services Administration teleworker.

The GSA employee works for a regional office in Kansas City but lives in Honolulu as part of a “virtual” staff program, according to CNN.

The program involves employees who work at home -- often in a different region from where their office is based -- and occasionally travel to their office or conferences on the government’s dime. GSA has spent $24,000 in travel expenses on the Hawaii-dweller during the past year and has spent millions of dollars on the entire program during the last three years, CNN said.

The report comes amid intense scrutiny on government travel costs and on GSA spending in particular, after a lavish Las Vegas agency conference in 2010 made national headlines earlier this year.

The Kansas City employee has made nine trips to the mainland in the past year for conferences and meetings, all paid for by taxpayers and in addition to the worker’s annual salary. Jason Klumb, the Kansas City office’s regional manager, said hiring that employee was and is a worthwhile investment.

"The cost of that travel was included in the consideration of his candidacy as an employee as compared with the other applicants," Klumb told CNN. "And when factoring all of those in, it was determined that he was the best candidate, even in light of the cost that would be incurred."

A GSA spokeswoman told Government Executive new agency leadership is carefully eyeing the policy that allows employees to work from home. “GSA has placed stringent controls to drastically curb spending on travel, conferences and events for all employees, including those who work from home full time,” she said.

GSA’s acting Director Dan Tangherlini told CNN virtual employees are acceptable as long as there is justification for the hire.

"I think the most important part for the GSA to think about is make sure we open ourselves up, avail ourselves to all the smart people in the country, but then also make sure we have a clear business case," he said. "If we have someone who is working in Nebraska but reporting to Boston, there has to be a clear explanation for what value they're providing, and you've got to give me the business case. You've got to explain to me why that's a cost-effective move for the American people, and that's a new standard that we're asking everyone at GSA to adhere to."