PART 1. COMPTROLLER OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
CHAPTER 20. STATEWIDE PROCUREMENT AND SUPPORT SERVICES
SUBCHAPTER E. STATEWIDE PROCUREMENT DIVISION SERVICES - TRAVEL AND VEHICLES
34 TAC §20.407, §20.408
The Comptroller of Public Accounts adopts amendments to §20.407, concerning definitions and §20.408, concerning exceptions to the use of contract travel services, with changes to the proposed text as published in the February 21, 2020, issue of the Texas Register (45 TexReg 1193). The rules will be republished.
The comptroller also adopts the change to the title of Subchapter E Special Categories of Contracting, Division 2, which changes the title from State Support Services - Travel and Vehicles to Statewide Procurement Division Services - Travel and Vehicles.
The amendments are adopted to clarify documentation requirements for state employees' use of travel services other than contract travel services.
The amendments to §20.407 add a definition of "overall cost of travel" that includes a number of elements that contribute to costs of employee travel.
The amendments to §20.408 clarify, in subsection (a), that state agencies may reimburse their employees for travel services other than contract travel services only if one or more specified exceptions apply; clarify, in subsection (b), the exception for lower overall cost of travel, which requires documentation and must be based on a consistent cost comparison methodology; clarify, in subsection (h), the scope of the emergency response exception; and require, in new subsection (j), documentation of necessity whenever an agency reimburses lodging costs at a rate that exceeds the maximum set in the regulations issued by the United States General Services Administration (GSA) for a particular location, mirroring the requirement in General Appropriations Act (House Bill 1, 2019), Article IX, §5.05(a)(2). The title of §20.408 is amended to indicate that this section addresses requirements for higher cost of travel.
The comptroller received comments from Tess Ludes-Meyers, on behalf of Texas Department of Transportation, asking if travelers reducing their meals to increase the maximum lodging reimbursement would need to document the exception described in subsection (j). The comptroller has added clarifying language in subsection (j) to state that an employee claiming less than the maximum meal allowance may apply the reduced amount to increase the maximum lodging reimbursement rate without triggering the requirement to document described in subsection (j); this aligns with the Textravel policy administered by the comptroller's Fiscal Management Division.
The comptroller also received comments from Shelley Knight, on behalf of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, who noted that her comments primarily related to the comptroller's 971-M1 statewide contract for Lodging Services and Booking Tool, with some also applying to other statewide travel contracts. Ms. Knight commented that pricing changed at times on the statewide lodging contract and depending when booked may not always be the lowest cost. Ms. Ludes-Meyers also asked for exception (b), what contract travel services pricing should be used since lodging and rental vehicle pricing is available from multiple providers at different rates. The rule provides for the agency to develop its own cost comparison methodology for considering an exception on lower cost, however, price at the time of booking could be a suitable point to document comparison pricing. The comptroller's rental car contract pricing and lodging contract pricing at or below the GSA rates is established for state travelers to obtain suitable travel in an efficient manner without an exception being required.
Ms. Knight also noted that for agencies with no central reservations staff, employees are entrusted to their own discretion making travel arrangements individually or in coordination with others, and prior oversight would be cost prohibitive, therefore review occurs after the travel has occurred. The comptroller's statewide contracts are developed to provide flexibility and services for the diverse agencies that comprise Texas state government; the review of travel receipts and documents after travel, as well as booking by individual travelers is common, though not uniform, across state agencies. Specifically for lodging, individual travelers may book up to eight rooms concurrently to establish uniform pricing and efficient coordination of travel arrangements. If travelers wish for explanation or training in application of state travel rules, the comptroller's State Travel Management Program and Fiscal Management Expenditure Assistance staffs are available to answer questions and provide training. Ms. Knight additionally commented on specific savings and practices employed by her agency's travelers to conserve state funds.
Ms. Knight's final comments noted that no other purchasing statute or rule instructs agencies to do a "cost comparison" before the expenditure is completed, and that allowing for shifting expenses in the cost comparison is too variable to predict. The comptroller notes that the "cost comparison" is required only when considering an exception to using a state contract; no cost comparison is required when booking a room directly off the contract that is at GSA rate or lower. The rule, current and proposed, allows travel obtained at lower overall cost to the state, and encourages state agencies to obtain lower priced travel that lowers the overall cost. By incorporating a definition of the concept of "lower overall cost of travel," agencies and their travelers may now consider the factors that contribute to that overall cost when determining if travel is efficiently secured by means other than the statewide travel contracts. The comptroller does not stipulate lowest cost of travel, or only the least expensive hotels, rental cars, flights or other travel options would ever be used, but allows agencies to consider non-cost exceptions for health and safety, proximity to duty station, travel time or other factors in selecting travel arrangements.
The comptroller also received comments from Linda Flores, on behalf of Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, noting that the rules better define the concept of "lower overall cost of travel"; that the General Appropriations Act already requires documentation for lodging reimbursement that exceeds the maximum GSA rate; that her agency has not utilized the exceptions for emergency response; and that because her agency's travel policy references §20.408 for valid exceptions, it is always current. Ms. Flores noted that the rule changes she addressed would have no impact on her agency.
The comptroller has responded to all who submitted comments within the 30-day comment period.
Following publication, the comptroller noted two errors in the proposed text, which the comptroller has now corrected. The comptroller has capitalized the word "God" in §20.407(3). The comptroller has capitalized the name of the "General Services Administration" in the title of §20.408(j).
The amendments are adopted under Government Code, §§403.011, which outlines the general powers of the comptroller, 572.051, which requires each state agency to adopt a written ethics policy, and 660.021, which authorizes the comptroller to adopt rules to efficiently and effectively administer this chapter related to state employee travel costs.
These amendments affect Government Code, §660.07.
The following words and terms used in this division are defined as follows unless the context clearly indicates otherwise.
(1) Contractor--An individual or entity under contract with comptroller for the provision of travel services.
(2) Contract travel services--The travel services provided pursuant to comptroller contracts that guarantee prices and levels of services for all eligible entities and individuals.
(3) Force majeure event--Any acts of God, war, riot, strike, or other event beyond the control of a contractor and that could not reasonably have been anticipated or avoided and which, by the exercise of all reasonable due diligence, such contractor is unable to overcome.
(4) Official government business--Business required in the scope and course of the traveler's employment that is properly authorized by the employing governmental entity.
(5) Overall cost of travel--May include the actual costs to the state for travel, including flight or other mode of transport to the duty station, mileage, rental car, taxi, parking, tolls, lodging, meals in amounts less than or equal to the allowed per diem, and in some instances may also include travel time to duty station or other relevant factors directly related to the travel that are significant in the context of the overall cost of the travel event.
(6) State agency--Any department, commission, board, office, council, or other agency in the executive branch of state government created by the constitution or by statute that is required to use contract travel services pursuant to Government Code, §2171.055.
(7) State employee--Any person employed by a state agency, or an elected or appointed official.
(8) State travel credit card--A credit card issued to an individual or a governmental entity by a contract travel credit card contractor.
(9) State travel directory--A comptroller publication that lists current available contract travel services.
(10) Traveler--Any person eligible to use contract travel services, including those eligible pursuant to the comptroller's travel allowance guide.
§20.408.Exceptions to the Use of Contract Travel Services and Higher Cost of Travel.
(a) Exceptions to use of contract travel services. In accordance with these rules and applicable statutes, state agencies may allow their employees to use travel services other than contract travel services only if one or more of the exceptions in subsections (b) through (i) of this section apply. Nothing in this section affects or alters the authority of the comptroller regarding travel reimbursement or audit of travel transactions.
(b) Lower overall cost of travel. The state agency obtains lower priced travel services through the use of fourteen day or other advanced reservations programs, promotional price reductions, or any method that provides a lower overall cost of travel. When a state agency uses any travel services obtained at a lower overall cost than the contract travel services price, the exception must be documented by the agency. The agency should document and follow a consistent cost comparison methodology.
(c) Unavailability of contract travel services. The contract travel services are not available during the time or at the location necessary for the business purpose; or the contract travel service does not provide for the service required; or because the contractor is unable to provide the contract services due to a force majeure event.
(d) Special needs. The traveler's health, safety, physical condition, or disability requires accommodations, including medical emergency or other necessary services, not available from contract travel service contractors.
(e) Custodians of persons. The traveler has custody of a person pursuant to statute or court order and the traveler is required to provide a degree of security and safety that is not available from contract travel service contractors.
(f) In travel status. The traveler is in the course of travel and changes in scheduling render the use of contract travel services impractical or the appropriate travel services are not available. The traveler shall make reasonable efforts to secure rates equal to or lower than the contract travel service rates.
(g) Group program. The traveler is using a group program wherein reservations were made through a required source to obtain a particular rate or service.
(h) Emergency response. The traveler is responding to a public health or safety emergency situation and the use of contract travel services is not available or would result in an unacceptable delay.
(i) Legally required attendance. The traveler is required by a court, administrative tribunal, or other entity to appear at a particular time and place without sufficient notice to obtain contract travel services.
(j) Lodging reimbursement exceeding General Services Administration rates. Except when a state employee may claim less than the maximum meal reimbursement rate for a duty point and use the amount of the reduction to increase the maximum lodging reimbursement rate for the duty point, if a state agency reimburses lodging at a rate exceeding the maximum set in the regulations issued by the United States General Services Administration for a particular location, the agency must document its determination that local conditions necessitate the higher rate for that location.
The agency certifies that legal counsel has reviewed the adoption and found it to be a valid exercise of the agency's legal authority.
Filed with the Office of the Secretary of State on April 30, 2020.
Chief Counsel, Operations and Support Legal Services Division
Comptroller of Public Accounts
Effective date: May 20, 2020
Proposal publication date: February 21, 2020
For further information, please call: (512) 475-0387