By at least one measure, travel spending by federal employees has fallen 17 percent compared to the same period last year.
Spending with the General Service Administration’s SmartPay charge card (a federal program that allows users to charge travel expenses) has dropped from $7.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year to $6 billion this year. That is substantially less even than federal travel spending using the SmartPay system in 2011 when it accounted for just less than $9 billion, according to the Federal Times.
Cuts may even more substantial in the coming year with the release late last week by the General Services Administration (GSA) of its 2014 per diem travel rates, the amount government employees are allowed to spend on hotels and restaurants while on business trips. While the rates vary from city to city, across the board they will now be 5 percent below the average daily rates in those cities.
At the same time, the GSA has eliminated the Conference Lodging Allowance, which allowed travelers to spend as much as 25 percent above per diem rates when attending conferences. The agency estimates that will save the federal government $10 million next year.
A substantial portion of these cuts were precipitated by an April 2012 study by the U.S. Office of the Inspector General that found the GSA spent $823,000 on a single conference in Las Vegas in 2010.
The following month, the Obama administration responded to the scandal with a directive to federal agencies to cut their travel budgets for fiscal year 2013 by 30 percent and cap spending on government-sponsored conferences at $500,000.
As a consequence, participation by government employees in tradeshows, conferences and conventions has dropped substantially. In the second quarter, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research reports, an index of metrics for government sector-related tradeshows dropped 10 percent compared to the same quarter in 2012.
While a relatively small federal agency, GSA has taken the biggest hit in travel spending, having spent $3 million so far this year compared to $8 million last year. GSA officials say the agency has cut travel spending by $28 million since 2010.
By comparison, the massive U.S. Department of Defense has spent $3.6 billion so far this fiscal year (which ends Oct. 31), a 19-percent drop from the $4.5 billion spent last year at this time.