Friday, November 15

Months after controversy, UCLA clarifies travel guidelines

UCLA administrators produced guidelines last week clarifying and adding to existing policies governing travel and entertainment expenses almost half a year after an investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting detailed the millions of dollars expensed by the university for luxurious executive travel and accommodations, according to documents obtained by the Daily Bruin.

The “UCLA Travel Guidelines,” were attached to a Jan. 28 email from Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh to almost 80 university administrators and administrative staff.

According to the document, the guidelines are intended to “supplement IRS regulations and University (of California) policies in order to assist UCLA faculty, staff and administrators” in making cost-effective decisions on travel and entertainment.

Public records documenting the travel expenses of the university’s top brass, obtained and published by the Center for Investigative Reporting in August, drew national scrutiny last summer for the luxurious travel accommodations of UCLA’s leadership, sometimes in violation of University policy. The accommodations and pricy travel arrangements bloated the university’s travel budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Anderson School of Management Dean Judy Olian and Dean Teri Schwartz of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television – central subjects of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s article – were among the recipients of Waugh’s email.

The new UCLA-specific guidelines, dated January 2014, provide detailed requirements for reimbursements and special accommodations, new restrictions on certain types of expenses and notes on two occasions that employees requesting reimbursement should be aware that their receipts “are subject to public records requests.”

UC employees across the state, with exceptions for employees at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, are subject to UC Policy BFB-G-28, which governs transportation guidelines, and UC Policy BUS-79, which details general meeting and business expenses.

In an emailed statement, UCLA spokesman Steve Ritea said that the university issued the guidelines in response to numerous requests by university employees to lay out existing policies in “plain language.”

“This document does not reflect any changes to our existing policies or philosophy – medical exemptions have always been required for flight upgrades and the university has always worked to purchase the least expensive tickets for those flights – but rather it seeks to provide guidance, based on existing policies, to those who travel regularly,” Ritea said in the statement.

A review of the documents by The Bruin found a number of differences between UC-wide policies and the recently adopted “UCLA Travel Guidelines:”

  • The new UCLA-specific policies state that in the event that an employee is approved for business class seating on a flight, the university will pay for the least expensive ticket available. Similarly, if business class is unavailable, the university will purchase the least expensive first-class ticket. UC-wide policy does not explicitly require that the university purchase the least expensive ticket available for business or first-class seating.
  • On two separate occasions, the UCLA guidelines stipulate that reimbursement documents are subject to public records requests, noting that requests should “explicitly indicate if any names should be kept confidential in the event of a public records request, and the information will be redacted when appropriate. This applies to names of potential donors, candidates for open positions at UCLA, or other individuals who are not employed at UCLA.”
  • The “UCLA Travel Guidelines” also provide further detail on the documentation needed for medical exemptions from economy class seating, specifically that employees must provide documentation from “a licensed physician, acknowledged by the unit’s (Chief Accounting Officer)/(Financial Administrative Officer), updated annually, and maintained securely in the Travel Accounting Office.” UC policy asks that “documentation of (a disability or medical need) should be provided on the Travel Expense Voucher,” without the additional requirements of an annual update and without mention of the nature of the documentation.
  • UCLA’s new policies also clarify the circumstances in which it is permissible for an employee to combine a business trip with vacation. The policy states, “If vacation days comprise over 50% of international trips longer than one week in duration, UCLA will prorate airfare and other general expenses between vacation and work days.” However, UCLA will only pay a prorated part of the airfare if the primary purpose of the trip is university-related business. UC-wide policy provides fewer details, stating simply that “A trip is considered entirely for business if you can establish that a personal vacation was not a major consideration, even if you have substantial control over the arranging of the trip.”
  • Under the new guidelines, UCLA will not grant full reimbursement for meals that cost more than 200 percent of the University’s per-meal allowance. UC policy allows employees to spend as much as $26 for breakfast, $45 for lunch and $78 for dinner. UC policy allows for meals to exceed 200 percent of the per diem requirements if “authorized by the Chancellors or President.” In an email statement, Ritea said that Chancellor Block “retains the ability under policy to provide reimbursement for meals over the 200% limit, but he has chosen not to approve them going forward.”

In his email, Waugh wrote that the guidelines would be used “effective immediately to respond to requests for exceptions to policy.” Ritea said the policies would be communicated to staff and faculty “very soon.”

The Center for Investigative Reporting found evidence that six of the university’s 17 deans routinely used medical excuses to secure business-class or first-class seats for air travel, at times with unclear medical need.

In other cases, administrators took limousine rides as far as San Diego, stayed multiple nights at luxury hotels within 30 miles of the UCLA campus – a violation of University policy – and spent tens of thousands of dollars on private car services over several years.

Chancellor Block told the Daily Bruin’s editorial board in November he believed the Center for Investigative Reporting’s article did not provide proper context for some of the expenditures and that university administrators seek to minimize the cost of their travel.

View the full “UCLA Travel Guidelines” email here.

Contributing reports by Kristen Taketa, Bruin senior staff, Sam Hoff, Bruin reporter, and Kenneth Surajat, Bruin contributor.

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  • Emily Montan

    When this controversy was first published, I immediately showed my supervisor. We agreed that I should be similarly be bumped up due to my arthritis and stenosis. There was immediate push-back. I fly about 8-10 times per year for UC and have always used the least expensive travel options. So why am I getting resistance? I work just as hard and get paid less. Harrumph! :-)

    Since I fly using Southwest only (covers 99% of the long distance campuses), there is not upgrade, really. My option is to get a person with a wheelchair to pick me up at the check-in and take me to my gate and vice-versa. I don’t really mind this option as I get to board earlier and not have to walk fast on the jetway. I used this option BEFORE the controversy arose – so why doesn’t senior management/faculty use this option? It costs the price of a tip. I average about $15 per trip for this.

    Business class and First class have larger seats – I am a large person as well. However, this a not an option for me since I don’t fly the other commercial airlines. Also, I ask, is being too large for one seat a medical problem/disability? I see-saw on that question. So I will take taxis, use less expensive seating and take advantage of the wheelchair staff at the airports. I have done this before and will do it in the future. Senior management/faculty should do this as well. I would like to have some retirement left when I retire. Thank you.