Travel costs Miss. millions

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Approval for travel, out-of-country and otherwise, typically falls to agency directors or their division directors or agencies’ governing boards. For out of the continental U.S. travel, the state travel-policy handbook requires an employee also fill out a form estimating the cost and get approval from DFA prior to taking the trip.

But DFA officials said their approval mainly consists of checking to see whether the agency has sufficient money to cover the costs, not whether the trip is justified or whether a similar meeting or training could be found closer to home.

Lawmakers typically deal with agency budgets in a lump sum manner and have not gotten into minutiae of agency budgets to scrutinize travel and other spending.

In neighboring Alabama and Louisiana, officials appear to have started scrutinizing government travel closely, and cutting it.

DFA and legislative officials say part of the problem is Mississippi’s accounting system, which makes gathering detailed reports on individual trips difficult. DFA, at the Sun Herald’s request, gathered such records, but said doing so back to fiscal year 2004 was a difficult task and said some figures might be a little off due to agencies and individuals improperly coding out-of-country travel as something else or vice versa.

A new accounting system being installed should soon improve this, DFA and lawmakers said.

“We are working on the technology,” said state Rep. Scott DeLano, R-Biloxi, who oversees several agency budgets including MDA as an Appropriations subcommittee chair. “We will be able to get down into the weeds on a lot of these budgets where now we just cannot reasonably do it through the paper trails.”

MDA Deputy Director Kathy Gelston said her agency is looking to cut travel and other costs wherever possible, but believes that should be left up to MDA by the Legislature.

“Some agencies, maybe travel is kind of a reward for some,” Gelston said. “But our agency, as much as we travel … it’s work. … I like the way the Legislature has given us our budget lump sum, with the way our budget has shrunk over the last number of years. If they want to get in the weeds and truly understand what travel is, I am completely willing, but we don’t want arbitrary decisions made over a 10-minute conversation.”

Jun 24th, 2012 | Posted in Web Resources
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