New long-term temporary duty per diem rules that go into effect Nov. 1 will save the Defense Department about $22 million annually, the director of the Defense Travel Management Office said recently.
Long-term TDY is considered to be any temporary duty longer than 30 days. “So, for travel from 31 to 180 days, you will receive a flat-rate per diem of 75 percent. For travel greater than 180 days, you will receive a flat-rate per diem for 55 percent,” Harvey Johnson explained in a DoD News interview.
Johnson said the changes are meant to give long-term TDY travelers an incentive to seek out extended-stay lodgings, which generally are less expensive. Before this change, the Joint Travel Regulations encouraged travelers on extended TDY to seek out this type of lodging, but there wasn’t a requirement or incentive to do so.
Changes apply to all three parts of per diem
The reduced per diem rates apply to all three parts of the per diem -- lodging, meals and incidentals -- he noted, and apply equally to civilian and military personnel.
Travelers who are authorized the flat-rate per diem no longer have to submit a lodging receipt, but before they’re reimbursed, a receipt may be needed to validate that lodging costs were incurred. Staying anywhere for free or buying a home at the TDY location will make a traveler ineligible for the flat-rate per diem payment.
“Several other federal civilian agencies already implement similar policies. … Some are even more restrictive than ours,” Johnson said. The changes are simply meant to recognize that long-term stays are different from short-term TDYs, he noted.
Many of the conveniences available at extended-stay hotels can save money for travelers, and in turn, for DoD, Johnson said.
“They offer the kitchenettes, the sink, the refrigerator -- recognizing that people aren't eating out at an expensive restaurant every day, three meals a day,” he explained. “And I believe that's vital in this environment of sequestration and other external factors that have brought this on. So, we've got to make sure that people are traveling smarter and more [efficiently].”
Options if additional costs arise
Johnson said travelers still will have options if they are unable to find extended-stay lodging within a reasonable distance of their duty location, or if additional costs arise, such as a rental car. “You can work with your approving official to do actual-expense authorizations, which allows you to go above the flat-rate per diem to 100 percent, if needed,” he said.
And at no time should travelers end up paying out-of-pocket for authorized TDY expenses, Johnson said. “The intent is to do no harm. The intent is to ensure that we're finding affordable travel solutions.”
While acknowledging that these changes may feel like a pay cut to some travelers, Johnson said it’s important to recognize that per diem payments aren’t meant to serve as an extra pay.
“It's not a hardship pay, it's not a supplemental pay; it's a travel allowance,” he said. “And a travel allowance is designed to reimburse travelers for expenses incurred. … We are looking to fairly reimburse travelers for actual expenses incurred. If that means that it's over the flat per diem rate, then we will reimburse up to whatever it was that they spent.”