Benefits and Compensation

No Travel Reimbursement for Feds Who Stay at Lodging They Own

photo: Jack Handy

Federal employees who stay at lodgings they own while on job-related travel should not even try to obtain a reimbursement for their lodging expenses. So says the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal agency that sets the rules for reimbursement of federal employees’ employment-related travel expenses.

The GSA issued a final rule on Oct. 14 that amends the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR) to make the change.

The new policy says that federal offices may not reimburse the lodging portion of employees’ per diem expenses when they stay at any of the following they own:

  • recreational vehicles;
  • campers; and
  • residences.

Photo: Todd Leeuwenburgh

The GSA also will not reimburse federal employees for the cost of buying or selling a personally owned residence at a temporary duty location. Nor will it cover any of the costs associated with buying, selling or making payments for a recreational vehicle or camper.

While this change to the FTR has no bearing on private sector employers, such employers often find federal business-travel policies to be useful prototypes. They are free to adopt, adapt or ignore federal policies in this regard.

In addition, while a private-sector employer is free to reimburse such expenses, just because it may decide to do so does not guarantee that it will receive favorable tax treatment. Reimbursements may still count as income on which the federal government will tax the employees.

For example, that is the case with regard to per diem reimbursements. Private-sector employers are free to reimburse at a higher rate than those set by the IRS and GSA; however, the levels the federal government sets each year form the threshold that determines the tax treatment of those per diems. A private-sector employer may provide a per diem to an employee who travels on its business that is above the  GSA’s CONUS rates or the IRS’  high-low rates. But if it does, the portion of the per diem that is above those thresholds is income on which the employee will be taxed.

The new final GSA rule appears in the Oct. 14 Federal Register (76 Fed. Reg. 199). The document appears online at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-10-14/html/2011-26576.htm.