Their claims for reimbursement of travel costs are disallowed since the reasons for abandonment are unacceptable under the governing regulations. The questions raised are whether oral advice they received from their supervisor amounted to a modification of their travel orders to authorize the early return. Kissel called the hotels hosting the conferences they were to attend in San Diego. They learned that the room cost was $85-$90 per day. Since the maximum per diem rate for San Diego was $100. This would have left them only $10-$15 per day for meals and expenses. They contacted eight other hotels in the area to make arrangements but discovered that those hotels were also either too expensive or did not have vacancies.
B-239752, B-239753, Dec 4, 1990
MILITARY PERSONNEL - Travel - Temporary duty - Abandonment - Travel expenses - Reimbursement DIGEST: One month before scheduled temporary-duty travel, two Navy employees declined to reserve available rooms at their TDY location in San Diego, California, because the room rates exceeded the maximum authorized per diem rates. They decided instead to seek "economy" accommodations upon arrival in San Diego, but after searching unsuccessfully for lodging for two days and sleeping in a rental car one night, they abandoned their TDY assignments, upon their supervisor's advice, and returned to their official station. Their claims for reimbursement of travel costs are disallowed since the reasons for abandonment are unacceptable under the governing regulations.
Ronald A. Hawkins and Robert P. Kissel0:
Two employees of the Naval Ordnance Station, Indian Head, Maryland, appeal our Claims Group's disallowance /1/ of their temporary duty (TDY) travel claims for travel to a conference from which they returned early without attending. The questions raised are whether oral advice they received from their supervisor amounted to a modification of their travel orders to authorize the early return, or whether the employees' reasons for abandoning travel, without performing their TDY, otherwise meet the standards for allowing claims for travel expenses provided in the applicable travel regulations. We conclude that the claims may not be paid.
Four weeks prior to the TDY, Mr. Ronald A. Hawkins and Mr. Robert P. Kissel called the hotels hosting the conferences they were to attend in San Diego, California, to make lodging arrangements, knowing that a block of rooms had been set aside at the hotels for TDY attendees. They learned that the room cost was $85-$90 per day. Since the maximum per diem rate for San Diego was $100, this would have left them only $10-$15 per day for meals and expenses. They contacted eight other hotels in the area to make arrangements but discovered that those hotels were also either too expensive or did not have vacancies. Based on their prior travel experience, they decided not to reserve rooms and traveled to San Diego expecting to locate "economy" lodging. When they failed to locate acceptable lodging, after searching for two days in and around San Diego and sleeping in a rental car one night, they called their supervisor for guidance. Their supervisor advised them to continue looking for lodging, but if none could be found to return to their permanent duty station and not risk another night sleeping in the rental car.
Unable to secure lodging, the employees returned to Maryland without performing their assigned TDY.
The employees claimed reimbursement of their travel expenses, including air fare and car rental. The Navy determined that the employees abandoned their travel, and it initiated recovery of the travel advances.
The employees contend that they acted in good faith based on previous travel experience to secure affordable lodging, but due to extenuating circumstances they were unable to do so. Since they followed their supervisor's advice to return, they believe they are entitled to reimbursement of their travel expenses. The Navy did not find these reasons acceptable under the Joint Travel Regulations, vol. II, para. C4463 (Change No. 251, Sept. 1, 1986). Our Claims Group's disallowance sustained the Navy's determination.
Generally, TDY allowances are payable only incident to performing the TDY, unless the TDY is cancelled or the employees are called back early by the agency. Also, in limited circumstances allowances may be paid to the point at which the TDY is abandoned. The agency and the Claims Group considered the TDY as having been abandoned. In this regard the Claims Group based their disallowance on the general principles stated in Calvin A. Ehly, B-192718, Mar. 14, 1979, which held that under II JTR para. C4463, travel expenses to the point of abandonment are allowable only when the reasons for abandonment are of the type referred to by the regulations and are acceptable to the agency.
The record shows that the employees were allowed to make their own lodging arrangements, and there is no evidence that any agency official instructed or acquiesced in the employees' decision to travel without reservations. The head of the department at the Naval Ordnance Station to which the employees were assigned stated that it is not the usual or expected practice for a supervisor to review or approve the specific lodging arrangements made by TDY travelers, and that he did not consider it the supervisor's responsibility that these employees departed without pre-arranged lodging. The supervisor, who advised the employees to return, states that he had no prior knowledge of the employees decision to travel under these circumstances. /3/
Paragraph C4463 limits the reasons for allowing travel expenses in cases of abandonment to illness in the employee's family or similar circumstances, in addition to reasons described in II JTR chapter 6, Part J, which are incorporated by reference through paragraph C4462. Those are limited to an employee's illness or injury of a member of the employee's family in a catastrophic occurrence or impending disaster, such as a fire, flood or act of God, which directly affects the employee's home at his/her official station. The reasons given here included available room costs that were high in relation to authorized per diem, and travel without confirmed lodging on the basis of prior experience indicating availability of lodging at "economy" rates. These reasons do not fall within the described criteria. The employees' predicament was caused by their personal decision to forego available reservations four weeks before travel was scheduled, when they knew that most of the hotels were booked.
As to whether the supervisor's advice to return if lodging could not be found constituted an official cancellation or modification of the TDY, it is our view that it did not. When the claimants' supervisor gave the advice to return, he was addressing circumstances that were the consequences of the claimants' imprudence, rather than the needs of the government.
As a result, the agency was justified in denying reimbursement of travel expenses for their TDY. Calvin A. Ehly, B-192718, supra. Accordingly, the Claims Group's denials of the employees' claims are sustained.
/1/ Settlement Certificates Z-2865998 and Z-2865999, March 16, 1989.