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August 14, 2012

GSA maintains per diem rates through 2013

Good news for America's meetings and events industry: The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) announced that it would not change its formula for calculating lodging per diems, freezing the 2013 rates at 2012 prices rather than lowering them as had been threatened. The issue had been largely overshadowed by the overarching legislative crises and the hearings recently underway in Washington.

As explained on FederalNewsRadio.com, the GSA sets the allowances for lodging, meals and other incidental expenses for federal employees who must travel for work. Per diem rates vary for some cities and counties, known as non-standard areas, which include popular convention destinations like Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. Ten cities (to be announced) will be added as NSAs in 2013 at the request of agencies.

GSA said the action to freeze per diem rates reflects an Office of Management and Budget memo directing agencies to cut travel in fiscal 2013 by 30 percent compared with fiscal 2010. Prior to the release of the 2013 per diem rates, some legislators had urged GSA to ensure reimbursement rates were not too low. The standard per diem rate is $123 ($77 lodging, $46 meals and incidental expenses).


Roger J. Dow, President and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, sent out the following letter to members:

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder in defending the value of government travel, our industry successfully avoided a potentially devastating policy change when the the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) announced it would not alter its method for calculating lodging per diems, which could have cost the industry $885 million in revenue and thousands of American jobs.

Thanks to the joint advocacy efforts of travel industry associations, local hotel owners, national lodging chains, destination marketing organizations and many others, we were able to defend against a policy proposal that would have cut federal lodging per diem rates by roughly 30 percent.  The GSA was considering this drastic change as part of a government-wide initiative to reduce federal conference and travel spending.  Instead, the GSA decided to freeze lodging per diem rates at current levels for the upcoming fiscal year.

This decision was reached because so many industry leaders sent a clear message that travel is an essential tool for the government and critical to local economies.  Working with the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others, we successfully generated dozens of letters from leaders on Capitol Hill and met repeatedly on this issue with members of the Administration to support this issue.  State travel associations and destination marketing organizations from across the nation hosted roundtables with government officials to discuss the importance of federal travel.  In the end, our message was heard loud and clear. 

We should be thankful to the GSA, travel leaders in Congress and the Obama Administration for continuing to work collaboratively with our industry, and for their recognition of the importance of travel.  Given the negative media attention surrounding federal conferences, a contentious political environment and a shrinking federal budget, a freeze in the per diem rates is a sensible policy decision that minimizes economic impact on the travel industry and protects taxpayer dollars during these tight fiscal times.

There are still difficult challenges ahead.  Federal agencies face 30 percent cuts to their travel budgets and government conferences remain under intense scrutiny.  But the per diem debate provides a valuable lesson on what we can accomplish when we speak with one voice.  From streamlined visa policies, to improvements in aviation, to developing smart and responsible government travel practices, the unified voice of our industry is being heard as never before in Washington, D.C.

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