As a federal employee, whenever I travel on official business, I am granted compensation for my meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) at a rate usually set by GSA, but also set by DoD or DoS in some jurisdictions. If I do not spend up to the compensation rate, I pocket any excess (untaxed I might add). At least this is how it works in DoD.
I have rarely ever spent up to the M&IE rates, despite generally eating well. On a recent trip to Germany, I was paid over $140 each day and spent about a third of it averaged over the course of the trip, despite eating very well.
There are several changes to this process which could save the government money:
1) Reevaluate the rates to ensure that they are reasonable.
2) Don’t compensate travelers for breakfast if it is provided for free at their hotel (if a meal is provided at a funded conference the meal’s compensation is currently excluded, but not at a hotel)
3) Include in the travel voucher process a field to specify the amount of M&IE expenses which were actually incurred.
3a) It would be heavily burdensome to track receipts for every meal, so a ‘good faith estimate’ could be used.
3b) Any excess M&IE would be split between the traveler and the government. Splitting the excess portion would encourage the employee to control their costs, while saving the government a significant amount of money compared to the current system.
3c) I would suggest the ratio of the split to be 75% of the excess to the government and 25% to the traveler.
On my recent trip to Germany I was granted about $2,500 for M&IE over about 2.5 weeks. I think I actually spent about $900 and thus pocketed about $1,600. This is not reasonable.
By my calculations,
Suggestion 2 alone would have saved the government about $300.
Suggestion 3 alone would have saved $1,200.
Both suggestion 2 and 3 would have saved the government $1,275.