College of Education > Faculty and Staff Resources > Quick Reference Guide on Travel and Reimbursement Processes for Faculty and Staff

Quick Reference Guide on Travel and Reimbursement Processes for Faculty and Staff

Basic Principles

  1. We all have to play by the same rules.
    These rules govern the use of all Penn State funds, including grant funds, contracts, and gifts.  The oversight that is exercised is not personal and is not directed at individuals.  It is not a matter of a lack of trust.  It is a matter of the University’s fiduciary responsibility for the funds entrusted to its care.
  2. Show, don’t claim.
    For example, you have to do more than claim that a vendor is cheaper than a pre-approved vendor like National Car Rental.  You have to show that this is the case.
  3. Ask before you commit
    We will try to be helpful and responsive.  Our biggest difficulties arise when a problematic commitment has already been made and we are in clean-up mode.
  4. Anticipate the questions that will be asked.
    If you’re using Penn State funds, you should expect questions about their use and it is best to anticipate the questions.  It can be awkward for the finance staff to ask these questions.  Please avoid the awkwardness by anticipating the questions and by providing the needed information at the time you make your request for reimbursement.
  5. Follow the “golden” rule.
    Expenses cannot be charged against a University budget unless they are reasonable, allowable, and allocable.  See your Finance Assistant or Administrative Support Coordinator if you’re unsure.

Role of the Finance Office

  • University policy mandates the use of certain documentation guidelines.  These guidelines are posted in various places (see section C for links) and must be enforced within Departments and offices in the College by the relevant Budget Administrator (e.g., the Department Head or Director in most cases), the Administrative Support Coordinators in charge of budgets and the Finance Assistants.
  • The College’s Finance Office, in most cases, provides the final approval for financial transactions within the College and ensures that the policies and procedures are being followed on behalf of the Controller’s Office.  The Finance Office also provides training to the College’s support staff on any new financial policies or procedures.
  • As the Finance Office reviews expense reimbursement requests, each transaction is checked to ensure compliance with University policy and procedure.  Questions that arise because of missing documentation are referred to the Department or office staff who are expected to contact the employee who incurred the expense to obtain the information needed so that proper documentation exists.  If the proper documentation cannot be obtained, it may become necessary to deny the request.
  • All employees using University funds to pay for PSU related business expenses should work with the relevant Finance Assistants to ensure that proper policies and procedures are followed

Top 10 Things to Know

Following are ten things every employee using PSU funding for business related expense reimbursements should know.

Reimbursement Requests

ALL reimbursement requests should be submitted shortly after the expense is incurred.  If a pcard is used to purchase goods and services, a signed receipt and the pcard support form MUST be completed and given to the relevant Finance Assistant to reconcile within 30 days of the purchase.  If it is not, it will “autopost” and a report will go to the Controller’s Office identifying all outstanding charges as well as the card holder responsible.  If an employee routinely has charges in “autopost” status, the pcard can be suspended and charges can be made personal.

ALL ERS (Employee Reimbursement System) travel related expenses MUST be submitted within 60 days of the last day of the travel.  If this does not happen, the University is under no obligation to reimburse the employee.


Using a Non-Preferred Vendor Because It Is Cheaper

Penn State has a contract with National Rental that includes a discount and the provision of all Penn State employees with insurance.  Employees are asked to use National Rental to rent vehicles for business travel when possible.  Many times employees will use another rental car vendor and note: “I used a different vendor because it was a lot cheaper.

While it is desirable for employees to try and find savings, hearing from them that their choice was cheaper does not meet the documenting standards explained in the Travel Policy.  You must show that the cost was cheaper by including a quote from National Rental to compare to the car rental with the non-preferred vendor.  Also, you need to include the cost of insurance in the cost of the non-PSU preferred vendor choice because it is included in the National Rental price.  The alternative choice may not be the most economical after all.  If it is and if it is documented, the alternative choice will be approved.


Adding Personal Time to a Business Trip

Most of the time adding personal travel onto business travel is perfectly fine.  But there are documentation requirements associated with this as it is not appropriate to reimburse any expenses related to the personal part of the trip.

The traveler must document the full length of the trip and prorate some costs so that only the costs incurred associated with the business travel will be reimbursed.  For example, if a flight was taken, a comparison quote must be included that shows the cost of the flight without any personal time included.  The traveler will be reimbursed for the cheaper of the two.  Also, if an employee is traveling internationally for longer than one week and more than 25% of the trip is personal, the employee will be taxed on the reimbursement for the cost of the flight being charged to University funds.  This is an IRS regulation as the portion of the flight charged while on a personal trip is considered by the IRS to be a taxable benefit.


International Travel/Per Diems/Long Term Travel

The traveler must document the full length of the trip and prorate some costs so that only the costs incurred associated with the business travel will be reimbursed.   For example, if a flight was taken, a comparison quote must be included that shows the cost of the flight without any personal time included.  The traveler will be reimbursed for the cheaper of the two.   Also, if an employee is traveling internationally for longer than one week and more than 25% of the trip is personal, the employee will be taxed on the reimbursement for the cost of the flight being charged to University funds.  This is an IRS regulation as the portion of the flight charged while on a personal trip is considered by the IRS to be a taxable benefit.

When traveling for longer than a week for business not directly associated with a conference, it is necessary to know the business engaged in daily. A simple summary of the day-by-day business related activities is very helpful.  For example:

Mon. – met with Dr. X and Dr. Y at Florida State University to discuss NSF grant XYZ.
Tues. – met with Dr. X and Dr. Y at Florida State University to discuss NSF grant XYZ .
Wed. – Gave Lecture at Florida State University on NSF grant XYZ.
Thurs. – Conducted research in library at Florida State University w/Postdoc collaborating on project XYZ.
Friday – Met w/Research Participants to hold interview for XYZ project. IRB # XXXXXXXXXXX.


Fly America

If travel is going to be charged against a federally funded grant, all flights must take place on a U.S. flag air carrier.  U.S. law, 49 U.S.C. 40118, known as the Fly America Act, requires travelers whose air travel is being financed by the U.S. government to use U.S. flag air carrier service for all international air travel when available.

The traveler must use a U.S. flag air carrier on every portion of the route where service is provided unless the traveler qualifies for a waiver. Note that cost and/or personal convenience are not included in the exception criteria used to determine the non- availability of a U.S. flag air carrier. Travelers using a non-U.S. flag air carrier requesting reimbursement from a U.S government sponsored project must qualify for an exception under the act. The travel agent who booked the travel must complete and sign the Fly America Act Exception form at the time of booking to insure accurate documentation of the authorized exception at the time of booking.

When travel is booked externally, Purchasing's Travel onLion staff cannot complete the form because they did not book the travel and have no knowledge of the booking limitations that occurred when the travel was booked.  Travel onLion may be used when exceptions to the Fly America Act are required. Travel onLion staff will provide support and will complete the Fly America Act Exception form since they will have knowledge of the booking limitations at the time the travel was booked.


Driving vs. Flying

The choice of flying versus driving is influenced by distance, time, cost, and one's preference. When flying is the economical choice but one chooses to drive and the round trip mileage is 750 miles or more, the reimbursement may not exceed the cost of the lowest available air transport for the same points of origin and destination. The traveler must provide appropriate price quotes from either Travel OnLion or an acceptable travel agency, obtained at the time of the decision to drive rather than fly, to document the appropriate airfare for comparison.  Comparisons should not be completed one day before travel takes place as flights will cost significantly more.  All comparisons should be done at least 10 days prior to ensure an appropriate cost comparison.

When travel by car or train rather than flying extends the length of travel, one night's lodging and one day of per diem, equivalent to a reasonable travel day, may be reimbursed for the trip in each direction. If circumstances warrant additional reimbursement, the traveler should discuss the situation with the responsible Budget Administrator and Finance Assistant.  The goal of this provision in the policy is not to require travelers to fly against their will, but to ensure that expenses for the longer trip are not incurred unnecessarily. If the traveler is unable or unwilling to fly, then special arrangements must be sought.


Purchasing Goods and Services

If you purchase a good or service, you must have an itemized receipt and other appropriate paperwork in order to be reimbursed.  Please work with your Finance Assistant to obtain any additional paperwork.  Any purchases of goods or services over $2,000 must be made via the University’s EBUY+ purchasing system.  You can work with your Finance Assistant to make these purchases.

Some goods and services, such as office supplies are usually available via the University’s EBUY system and can also be purchased for you by your Finance Assistant.  If you make a purchase on your own and need to be reimbursed, you will be asked to provide a business justification for your purchase.  This documentation is especially important when we are audited as we have many restrictions concerning types of expenditures and the types of funds we may use for reimbursements.  The DCAA, Defense Contract Audit Agency, conducted an audit of the university’s purchasing card system a few years ago.  One of the findings was insufficient descriptions of business purposes.  Below is an example of a good description and one of an unacceptable description per DCAA standards.

Unacceptable
Book for research/class

Acceptable
Book “Science by Design Construct A Boat Catapult Glove Greenhouse” for “employee name” to be used as part of instruction in design studio class LTD 596


Group Meal Expenses

Business Group meals including PSU employees and outside guests are allowable charges on most University funds.   The group meal cannot cost more than one full day per diem per person (where the per diem is based on the location of the dining establishment).  Any amount over the full per diem per person must be charged to unrestricted gift funds or be paid for personally.  The College does not allow all employee group meals for routine business meetings.  For example, you may not order lunch for monthly or weekly dept./staff/ faculty meetings.

Alcohol can only be purchased using unrestricted gift funds.  Pre-approval from the Budget Executive (the Dean of the College) should be sought before charging any alcoholic beverages to a College of Education gift fund.  Sometimes it is appropriate to include spouses and/or children in group meals.  In those cases, spouses and children’s meals must be charged on unrestricted gift funds.  Pre-approval should be sought in these cases.   Itemized receipts must be submitted for all group meal and meeting expenses.   Also, a group meal form must be completed and signed by the appropriate Budget Administrator before reimbursement can be considered.  Please see your Finance Assistant before you plan a group meal to make sure you understand all of the documentation requirements.


Signing Agreements/Contracts

Only a few employees at Penn State have the authority to sign contracts or agreements on behalf of Penn State University.  Please do not sign or agree to any terms when making a purchase without speaking with your Finance Assistant first.  If there is a contract involved in any purchase being made, it must be forwarded to Risk Management or Purchasing Services depending on the type of contract.  Once reviewed by Purchasing and/or Risk Management, they will negotiate any unacceptable terms with the vendor and return the signed (by the authorized PSU employee) contract upon completion.


Reimbursing Non-Employees

When reimbursing non employees, it is important to have the appropriate documentation.  Any non-employee being reimbursed for travel expenses must complete a Non-Employee Travel Reimbursement Request Form.  Any non-employee being reimbursed for any expense must complete a Visitor form to ensure they are eligible for reimbursement.  You can find this form at:  http://guru.psu.edu/formpublic/VisitorsInformationSheet.pdf


Where to Go for Further Information

The relevant Penn State policies governing the use of Penn State funds can be found at the General University Reference Utility (GURU):
https://guru.psu.edu/policies/FN01.html

TRAVEL POLICY: 
https://guru.psu.edu/Policies/TravelPolicySINGLEDOC.html

FN-10 Business Expenses & Activities: 
https://guru.psu.edu/policies/FN10.html

PSU Purchasing Card Website:
https://guru.psu.edu/p-card/

PSU Purchasing Card Allowable Charges: 
https://guru.psu.edu/policies/psu/BS14.html

FN-14 Use of Tangible Assets: 
https://guru.psu.edu/policies/FN14.html

RA01 –Determining The Allowability, Allocability, and Reasonableness of Costs on Sponsored Projects: https://guru.psu.edu/policies/RA01.html

FN01- Processing Cash Revenues: 
https://guru.psu.edu/policies/FN01.html