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A decision was requested concerning the claims of five Social Security Administration (SSA) employees for actual subsistence expenses incurred during a temporary duty training assignment. In connection with the assignment, the employees were authorized actual subsistence expenses appropriate to the high-rate geographical area in which the training was located. The employees were lodged in apartments near the training center. SSA officials questioned whether the meal expenses claimed by the employees were excessive or unreasonable based on: (1) the average meal costs in the vicinity; (2) claims submitted by other trainees lodged in the same apartment complex; and (3) the fact that they had full kitchen facilities available which eliminated the need to eat all meals in restaurants. SSA submitted the question to GAO after the employees refused to revise their claims. Federal Travel Regulations provide that an employee may be reimbursed for the actual and necessary expenses of official travel when the maximum available per diem allowance is determined to be inadequate for travel to a high-rate geographical area. Although it is the responsibility of the employing agency to determine the reasonableness of actual subsistence expenses claimed by its employees, GAO reserves the right to make an independent determination as to this matter. In the absence of a fixed per diem rate limitation, GAO believed that the employees exercised reasonable reliance on SSA guidance as to the expense limitation for the training vicinity. In addition, the employees' travel orders specifically set out the area limitations. GAO found that the employees' expenditures were all within the specified limitation. Under the circumstances, GAO did not find that the employees' meal expenses were extravagant or unreasonable. GAO found no regulations that would preclude employees from eating in restaurants while occupying temporary quarters. Accordingly, GAO concluded that the employees' claimed meal expenses may be reimbursed.


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