Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Per Diem

As a government bureaucrat, there are fewer words that can take the smile off my face than per diem, the money you get from your job for incidental expenses that you incur while you’re traveling on business. The rules about per diem are very strict; you get a set amount per day (which is what per diem means in Latin), you must provide proof of the expenditure, anything above the set amount is your responsibility, and if you can’t account for it, not only do you have to pay it back, you can get written up for it, especially if you’re spending public funds. The taxpayers aren’t supposed to pay for your personal indulgences or that of your family. These rules are supposed to apply to everybody, but then, some people don’t always play by the rules.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a “per diem” allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business.

The governor also has charged the state for travel expenses to take her children on official out-of-town missions. And her husband, Todd, has billed the state for expenses and a daily allowance for trips he makes on official business for his wife.

Palin, who earns $125,000 a year, claimed and received $16,951 as her allowance, which officials say was permitted because her official “duty station” is Juneau, according to an analysis of her travel documents by The Washington Post.

The governor’s daughters and husband charged the state $43,490 to travel, and many of the trips were between their house in Wasilla and Juneau, the capital city 600 miles away, the documents show.

I would think that a person who goes around the country campaigning as a champion of fiscal restraint even to the point of exaggerating a story about how she sold the governor’s plane on E-Bay for a profit, would be a little more sensitive to pushing out the envelope on something as basic as the per diem rules. That’s because you come off sounding like a hypocrite. Or a liar.

Oh, and two other words that come along with per diem are “audit exception.” People get fired for that.