SC Agency Travel Spending Increases Dramatically Due to COVID; Eckstrom is looking for a 5% cut | Palmetto Policy | Tech US News


COLUMBIA – State agencies nearly tripled their spending on employee travel in the year after the COVID cutbacks, and South Carolina’s chief accountant is asking directors to cut those taxpayer-funded expenses.

Agencies collectively spent $47 million on employee travel in the fiscal year that ended June 30, compared with $16 million in 2020-21 amid COVID restrictions and precautions that voluntarily reduced travel, the agency said. week the Comptroller General of the State, Richard Eckstrom, in a report.

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In 2018-19, the last full year before the pandemic, agencies spent nearly $77 million on employee travel. The amount dropped to $55.4 million in 2019-20, the last four months of which were marked by nationwide shutdowns, according to annual travel reports from Eckstrom’s office.

Eckstrom said he’s not surprised that travel expenses are going up again. Nor does he dispute that travel is a necessary cost of business. And you don’t get spending details, so you don’t criticize any particular trip.

But “the dramatic difference showed that it is possible to manage travel more aggressively than we sometimes do,” he said on Nov. 4.

He urged agency leaders to cut spending this fiscal year by at least 5 percent, a number he chose small enough to be practical.

“I didn’t want it to be such a big bite that I didn’t get bitten,” he told The Post and Courier.

He encouraged agencies to continue using technology to connect people remotely when possible.

“During the COVID pandemic, our state has clearly demonstrated that it is possible to dramatically reduce travel,” he said in his statement. “One way this was done was by participating in online meetings through video conferencing capabilities made possible by the state’s significant investment in computer technology.

“It is true that there will be cases where online meetings will not work well, but during COVID we have shown that some meetings can be conveniently attended online or not,” he continued. “Because travel is already so expensive and rapidly becoming even more expensive due to inflation, we have to consider all reasonable alternatives.”

Cumulative totals include registration fees and in-state and out-of-state travel.

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Of the 130 state agencies listed in the report, the state’s public four-year colleges accounted for $22 million, or 47 percent, of total employee travel costs, the release said.

At the top of the spending list is Clemson University, with $7.4 million, followed by the University of South Carolina and its satellite campuses, with $5.9 million, and the Medical University of South Carolina, with $3.4 million.

The report’s breakdown of travelers within each agency shows that the vast majority of Clemson and USC’s top 25 are athletic department employees.

“No taxpayer or public money is used to pay for athletics travel expenses,” Clemson spokesman Joe Galbraith said.

He noted that the university’s travel expenses last fiscal year were nearly half of what they were in 2018-19 before the pandemic. And he said Clemson’s unique status makes travel a necessity.

Clemson’s public service and agriculture units, listed as a separate agency, spent an additional $906,000 on employee travel.

“Clemson has facilities throughout the state of South Carolina and extension offices in every county, each of which plays a vital role in the university’s land-grant mission,” Galbraith said. “In addition, the university plays a leadership role in numerous national organizations in a wide range of areas, including higher education, business, agriculture, engineering and industry.”

Spokespeople for USC and MUSC did not immediately respond to the report.

Eckstrom’s office ranks 123rd in employee travel, spending $7,334 last fiscal year. At the bottom of the list is the Acquisition Review Panel, which spent less than $500.

Eckstrom, a Republican, is unopposed Nov. 8 for his sixth term as the state’s chief accountant. He previously served a single term as state treasurer.

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