/State agencies spend $60 million on travel Can those costs be cut

State agencies spend $60 million on travel Can those costs be cut

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said he would like to see a reduction in travel agencies spending more than $60million last fiscal year. “If we save 10 percent, that’s $6million. During the hearings, Reeves tweeted that this money could be used in priority areas. The Legislature’s leadership has organized working groups that will examine the state’s tax code and how it distributes funds to state agencies. According to Commissioner Marshall Fisher, the Mississippi Department of Corrections will spend $687,000 for travel-related expenses in fiscal 2017. This is an increase of $450,000 in fiscal 2012. Fisher was asked by lawmakers about the training courses and conferences that were listed in paperwork given to the panel. One example was that 15 MDOC employees attended the Boston conference. Reeves stated that “I believe my constituents would want us to distinguish between necessary travel and unnecessary travel,” which is the real purpose of today’s questions. As we heard from the Department of Education, I believe certain things are sensible, such as traveling to train literacy coaches. My constituents want to know if we really need to send 15 people and 16 people to the same conference. Or could we send five or six people and get the same results. This is what I am most interested in today.” Monday’s meeting saw administrators of eight state-supported universities being asked four questions. What are your policies regarding out-of-state travel within your organization? * Are you allowing employees to travel out of state for continuing education each year in order to maintain their professional licenses? Attorneys, doctors, accountants, etc. * What verification mechanism is in place to confirm that an employee attended a conference? There were many responses. The policies of many of these institutions are guided by the Mississippi Code of 1972 travel rules and regulations, but there is no one-size fits all policy from the Institutes of Higher Learning. For fiscal year 2016, the total travel expenses for all eight schools were $16.5 million. Only 1% of institutional funds are used to travel. The University of Mississippi Medical Center spent $3,414,018 on out-of state travel, compared to Mississippi University for Women’s $168,340 total. Glenn Boyce (state commissioner for higher education) explained that UMMC incurred the most travel expenses due to the fact that medical center representatives attend conferences in other states. Reeves inquired about the necessity for employees to attend these conferences. Boyce said that researchers from all over the country will present new techniques to improve the quality of care at Mississippi’s medical center. Reeves also wanted to know how much colleges spend on student recruitment and trips. Boyce was willing to provide an answer. Carey Wright, the state Education Superintendent, stated that in-state travel accounts for a large portion of her department’s travel expenses. Wright stated that reading coaches and other specialists travel a lot from one district to another within the state. Wright said that the department has now deployed its employees to the districts, instead of requiring teachers to come to Jackson to train. This is a cash-saver. The federal government reimburses 50% of travel expenses within the Division of Medicaid. According to Dr. David Dzielak (executive director of the Division of Medicaid), the state only paid $400,000 of the department’s travel budget in 2016. In fiscal 2016, 80 of the 1,034 department employees traveled to work. Dzielak stated that most department expenditures are for in-state travel between offices. One central office is located in Jackson, and there are 30 regional offices throughout the state. It’s about protecting against fraud, waste, and abuse. He said that IT personnel may also need to travel to regional offices. The legislators were again most concerned about travel to conferences. Philip Gunn, Speaker of the House, noted that $2800 was spent on a Las Vegas conference attended only by one employee. Reeves stated, “I believe it would be difficult for many of my constituents understand why there is a need for 80 workers to travel to places such as San Destin, Las Vegas, and Jackson Hole.” “I think it’s clear that these conferences are important. “But there’s a point when it doesn’t make sense for people not to travel.” Dzielak explained that he personally approves every travel request from the department. He said that each conference trip is evaluated on three factors. Dzielak stated that it depends on whether it is directly related to their Medicaid job, how much experience they will gain at the conference and whether the information can also be obtained online or in-state. The vast majority of our travel takes place in-state,” Dzielak said. Lawmakers also heard Monday afternoon from the Department of Public Safety. According to Ken Magee, Deputy Administrator, the department spends approximately half a million dollars annually on travel. Federal grant money can be used to reimburse some of the travel expenses if employees are enrolled in certain training sessions. On Tuesday, the Capitol will host additional hearings for the panel of lawmakers. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to our Spring Member Drive today. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. 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