Q&A: Billing of Contracts for an Employee's Travel
Q. We recently won a commercial contract and are faced with a puzzle involving how we bill our travel. In the past our practice of billing all contracts for an employee’s travel based on the percentage of labor hours they worked during the travel has been accepted by DCAA and our customers. Our new commercial customer is asking us to bill them a Per Diem for international travel (but not for domestic travel). We have heard that many companies simply charge all travel expenses to the customer who “caused” the travel to happen and are wondering whether to switch. Two questions: Would the switch from our current approach of travel apportionment to the method of billing only one contract be challenged? Would the change from charging actual costs to per diem amounts be considered a “materially significant” change to our accounting practice?
A. An employee takes a trip and visits two customers or works on two projects - now the employee assigns travel costs on the basis of time spent and you would change this to a charge to only one customer. In the light of your previous, accepted practices, I think the odds of being challenged are pretty good. It seems to me the government would question allocation of total travel costs to one contract (say, a government cost type contract) where some travel costs could but are not allocated to say a commercial contract.
As for being reimbursed on a per diem basis versus actual costs, that should not affect how you charge the actual cost. You will charge the cost for accounting purposes the same – the actual incurred cost of the travel. If you make money (per diem is higher than cost) or lose money, the amount of the cost (not the amount of revenue received) is the determining factor. The only exception is if any of the travel cost you charge the customer for is originally charged indirect - then you need to credit the pool when you receive revenue associated with the cost charged indirect.
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