Chalk one up for the taxpayers: Government travel-related spending declines significantly.

dollarcutsCan it be possible that widespread public revulsion at the level of federal government conference and travel expenditures has actually had a positive impact?

It seems so, if new financial reporting is to be believed.

According to recent reports filed by the General Services Administration, federal travel card spending has declined ~17% so far in FY 2013 compared with the same period last year. 

That’s for the GSA’s SmartPay charge card program which covers more than 2.5 million cardholders.  And it’s the second year in a row that we’ve seen a drop in expenditures:

  • FY 2011:  $9.6 billion
  • FY 2012:  $8.9 billion
  • FY 2013 (YTD):  $6.0 billionGSA conference follies

According to GSA officials, the decline in travel-related spending has happened because of “aggressive steps” taken to cut conference spending in the wake of embarrassing revelations that a single GSA conference in Las Vegas in 2010 had cost American taxpayers nearly $825,000. 

The fact that this meeting included paying clowns and mindreaders to lead group discussions added an absurd twist on the entire affair.

clownIn May 2012, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memo directing federal agencies to reduce their travel-related spending by 30% compared to 2010 levels – and to maintain those levels through FY 2016.

Another directive required agencies to report spending on any conference that exceeds $100,000.

Looking out over the government agency landscape, it appears that most agencies have made some pretty big strides towards meeting the new standards. 

Comparative travel expense figures released by the GSA for FY 2013 through July against FY 2012 over the same period show these declines:

  • General Services Administration:  -62%
  • Veterans Administration:  -31%
  • Treasury:  -30%
  • Energy:  -25%
  • Commerce:  -23%
  • Labor:  -23%
  • Environmental Protection Administration:  -21%
  • Housing & Urban Development:  -21%
  • Defense:  -19%
  • Justice:  -19%
  • Transportation:  -18%
  • State:  -16%
  • Interior:  -12%

A few agencies did show increased travel expenditures.  Most significantly, the Small Business Administration doubled its expenses due to Hurricane Sandy and other natural disasters that required additional travel associated with putting manpower on location to provide financial assistance to homeowners, renters and businesses.

But taken as a whole, these expenditure drops are unprecedented. 

I wonder how many people would have predicted it – even though most people I know figure that there’s plenty of “fat” to cut within these agencies without hurting the programs.

It’s just that … we so rarely hear of reports like this in government.

And of course, there’s plenty of grousing to go around about the new realities.  One Department of Defense official who requested anonymity was quoted as saying, “When someone craps their pants, we all have to wear diapers.  This is hardly the way to run the DOD efficiently.”

And then there’s this:  Lest you think that we’ve put a lid on excess travel-related expenditures for good, the GSA has just announced that it will be unfreezing per diem rates for FY 2014.

That is correct:  The GSA is now increasing the lodging, meal and incidental allowances that federal employees are reimbursed for expenses incurred while on official travel.  It’s going up to $129 in most markets within the 48 contiguous states.

Maybe they think people won’t notice …

One thought on “Chalk one up for the taxpayers: Government travel-related spending declines significantly.

  1. For years, I think that the public has become desensitized to the news of government waste, fraud and abuse. Now that government cuts are hitting the lower-level workers with furloughs, families have had to live differently to make ends meet and businesses are doing more with less, it is intolerable that the “ruling class” is “tone deaf” and shielded from accountability.

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