Metro board creating first travel reimbursement policy

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Photo - A metro train travels westbound along interstate 66, Thursday, December 13, 2012
A metro train travels westbound along interstate 66, Thursday, December 13, 2012
Local,Transportation,Travel,Kytja Weir,Metro and Traffic,Spending

Metro's board of directors is expected to adopt its first travel policy after spending more than $20,000 on travel expenses for four conferences in less than two years.

Board members have given preliminary approval to new rules that would provide a per diem for board-related travel expenses based on federal standards. They would be able to separately bill hotel costs as needed, such as for convention hotel costs that exceed the federal reimbursement rate. But the rules do not set any limits on how much the board can spend each year.

The 15-person board has not had any policy dictating travel, though Metro employees have had policies in place for years. The board said it was adding one, not because of concerns about travel costs but as part of overall reforms in the wake of extensive criticism of how the agency was governed.

But the move comes as another local transportation board has taken fire for its travel expenses. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is building the Silver Line for Metro, covered $238 for two bottles of wine, $9,200 for an airline ticket to Prague and put up a board member at the Ritz-Carlton when he came to town for meetings.

Metro Vice Chairman Mortimer Downey alluded to the airport authority's travel expenses as board members discussed the issue in committee, prompting laughter from fellow board members. Downey said he doubted Metro's board had excessive expenses, noting he has rarely spent the full amount of the federal per diem at other transit agencies.

It's not clear what Metro's total travel costs for board members have been, though. Metro could not immediately provide figures.

Board members were reimbursed for $11,424 of travel expenses in 2011 and $9,420 in the first 10 months of this year, according to agency records. The $20,844 paid for the out-of-pocket costs for members to attend four American Public Transportation Association conferences or workshops in New Jersey, New Orleans, Seattle and Atlanta.

But that tally does not include the total cost of their travels, as the agency purchased some of the plane and train tickets directly and paid for all conference registration costs.

No meal reimbursements exceeded $61 and all hotel rooms cost less than $297 per night ?-- an amount that Maryland alternate Artis Hampshire-Cowan billed for a hotel room in Seattle in October, records show. But in many cases board members listed no expenses for meals, or expenses for only a couple of meals for multiple days of events.

Four current members had no travel receipts from that period: Maryland representative Michael Barnes, Maryland alternate Kathy Porter, D.C. representative Muriel Bowser and Virginia representative James Dyke.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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