In November 2011 President Obama issued an executive order to reduce government-paid travel by 20 percent. With a nearing $16 Trillion National Debt, and Trillions more in unfunded mandates, this executive order is a step in the right direction. That being said, there is something related to government-paid travel, which was not touched by Obama’s executive order. This something is the excessive meals and incidental expense (M&IE) per diem, that most Americans are unaware of.
M&IE per diem is the amount of money that a federal traveler receives each day he or she is on travel status for food purchases, incidental expenses, and associated tips. This is a link to the M&IE rates on the US General Services Administration’s (GSA) website.
The amount of the M&IE per diem is dependent on the city the federal traveler is traveling to. $46 would be given for rural or small towns, and $71 would be given for large urban cities. The first and last day of travel are 75 percent the normal amount. According to the GSA, M&IE rates are determined by a study conducted every three to five years. This study involves examining pricing data from more than 9,000 restaurants. While it is true that the inflationary policies of the Federal Reserve are increasing food prices, these figures seem a bit obscene.
Take for example the $71 rate, which suggests $36 of the $71 is for dinner. Is it really necessary that federal travelers have about a $30 meal when on travel (and a $6 tip)? American taxpayers would be unlikely to think so, and if they found out that federal travelers were having that expensive of a dinner paid for by the government there would be justifiable public outrage. Many in our nation are struggling to even provide basic meals for their families, why should federal travelers be afforded such luxury? Do not worry it gets worse.
If travelers do not spend all of their M&IE they get to keep it. While some federal travelers eat expensive meals paid for by the government while on travel status, many spend as little as possible to get a “bonus” from their travel.
What should happen is that the M&IE rates should be reduced, and if the traveler wants to supplement their M&IE rate with their own money to afford a more expensive meal they can do so. A dinner in a large urban city does not have to cost $30 plus tip; paying that much is a choice.
There would be backlash against reducing the M&IE rates. Many within the government would argue that if M&IE rates were reduced, federal travelers would be less likely to attend conferences and educational opportunities, as they would be taking on more personal cost themselves. That is a good thing, the federal government should be trying to reduce travel as much as possible, and offering most training opportunities for its employees locally (government travel and training in general needs to be examined very closely as there is a lot of unnecessary expense). The other area that would likely produce backlash is restaurants and establishments that benefit from the lavish M&IE rates.
Both types of backlash would be overcome by no argument being able to be made to the public on why the current M&IE rates are reasonable. Also, for those within the government, if the choice were between some sort of pay or benefit cut or M&IE rates being cut they would choose M&IE cuts.
Overall the amount of federal government travel is staggering, at about $9.5 billion in FY 2010 and 2011, and cutting M&IE rates would be worthwhile in regards to our nation’s budget.
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