New Guidelines for HEP Group Travelers

 

The University of Minnesota has developed a detailed travel policy that applies to all travel by employees (including students) on official business.  There is also a set of frequently asked questions that may be helpful.

 

The overriding principle of the policy is the following: “An individual traveling on University business should neither gain nor lose personal funds as a result of that travel.”  There have been unfortunate examples in the past where this ideal has not been achieved, which is why procedures have been tightened. 

 

Beyond the University policy there may be additional requirements imposed by the agency providing the funds that pay for the travel, in our case primarily the Department of Energy.  The University requires that the more restrictive rule will apply in all cases where agency and University policies differ.  Examples are the Minnesota frequent-flyer rules (U more restrictive) and the requirement to use U.S.-flag air carriers as prescribed in the Fly America Act (federal government more restrictive).

 

Travel on the HEP grant must be approved in advance by a senior investigator.  Requests for reimbursement must follow the posted Procedure for Reimbursement of Travel Expenses, which is currently being revised in accordance with the new policies described in this message.  Reimbursement forms submitted to the HEP group administrator (Wendy Tschampl) are subsequently reviewed and signed by the senior investigator overseeing travel under a specific research account.

 

Per Diem Meal and Incidental Expenses

 

The new University policy is to set maximum reimbursements for meals and incidental expenses based on federally established per diem rates, rather than to reimburse actual meal expenses.  Individual units (like the School of Physics and Astronomy) are no longer allowed to establish policies with different reimbursement limits.

 

Since meal reimbursements must never exceed the established per diem, receipts for meals are never required.

 

The U travel FAQ states “At the traveler's discretion, he or she can choose to claim less than the per diem allowed.”  Frugality on the part of all travelers will help to ensure that the HEP group gets the maximum benefit from our limited travel budget.  Travel to labs, meetings and conferences are an important part of what we do, and larger per-trip costs will have the inevitable consequence of fewer trips for the group as a whole and for individuals.

 

For this reason, the HEP faculty members have decided to continue to limit our own travel reimbursements to levels consistent with our guidelines before the U policy change.  Table 1 lists those previous limits and the new official limits for a few of our most popular destinations.  The full federal list for domestic destinations, which is broken down by state and metropolitan area is here.  For partial-day travel we have been using a breakdown of $3/$7/$10 for breakfast/lunch/dinner.  The breakdowns for federal per diems are given in Table 2.

 

While we feel the lower amounts are reasonable for routine travel (shifts and working trips) to places like the Soudan Lab, Cornell and Fermilab, we recognize that conferences, major collaboration meetings, and reviews may include social events like group dinners that result in greater costs.  For these kinds of trips we intend to claim actual expenses up to the official per diem rate.  If meals (lunches, banquet, etc.) are included as part of conference registration, the effective maximum per diem for that day should be reduced according to the partial-day table.

 

 

Table 1 – Previous standard and new maximum per diems for routine HEP group travel.

 

Destination

Previous Per Diem

Federal Max. Per Diem

CESR (Ithaca, NY)

$20

$44

Fermilab (Dupage Cty, IL)

$20

$49

Soudan Lab

$20

$39

 

 

Table 2 – Breakdown of the federal per diem rates by meal for partial-day travel..

 

M&IE

$39

$44

$49

$54

$59

$64

Breakfast

7

8

9

10

11

12

Lunch

11

12

13

15

16

18

Dinner

18

21

24

26

29

31

Incidentals

3

3

3

3

3

3

 

 

Lodging

 

There are no formal limits for lodging costs, except for the overall “lowest reasonable cost” goal that guide’s U policy.  A good guideline is provided by the lodging allowances specified in the federal domestic per diem schedule.

 

Airline or Personal Car?

 

Here again the general rule is to travel at the least expense possible.  The University policy states “The mileage rate includes gas, vehicle maintenance, insurance, and other personal vehicle related costs. Reimbursement (mileage and en-route expenses) must not exceed the lowest cost of comparable coach airfare (e.g. advanced booking, Saturday stay over).”  The use of personal vehicles is currently reimbursed at the IRS-approved rate of $0.445 per mile, and travelers should be able to justify the decision to use a personal vehicle.

 

Airline Cancellation/Change Fees

 

This is a new policy as of 2006.  “Written approval can be requested from the sponsor if cancellation fees are supported by a valid business reason. To ensure the approval was obtained, include a copy of that approval with the expense reimbursement documentation.”  We do not yet know exactly how this University requirement will be implemented for Department of Energy grants.  Whoever has the earliest need for reimbursement of cancellation fees will have to work through Dave Holets and Sponsored Projects.

 

Frequent Flyer Miles

 

The University has a restrictive policy on the Accrual and Use of Frequent Flyer Miles, which is based on Minnesota statute.

 

“…any credits or other benefits issued by the airline must accrue to the benefit of the University and may not be used by the University employee for personal travel.

University employees, rather than departments, are responsible for tracking miles earned with University funds, providing records of such tracking if requested, and otherwise complying with the law.”

 

The “Frequent Flyer Miles Earned” and “Frequent Flyer Miles Used” entries on the  employee expense worksheet provide the University with information that can be used to ensure compliance with this rule. 

 

If you earn frequent flyer awards by traveling on HEP business, it is appropriate to use them on HEP business.  They can be valuable tools for stretching thin travel budgets, making it possible for individuals to undertake research or conference trips that might otherwise be beyond the limitations of the travel budget. 

 

International Travel

 

There are many special University and agency rules that apply to international travel.  Maximum lodging and meal reimbursements rates are set by the U.S. State Department.  They tend to be extremely high, making the cost of international conferences and meetings potentially prohibitive for the HEP grant.  Detailed planning is essential.  Travelers must consult with their senior investigators about estimated expenses in advance of making the arrangements to ensure that the proposed trip can be accommodated in the group’s budget.