State officials shouldn't be reimbursed for free meals

Yet, it is occurring at the Oregon Treasury. The reimbursement rules need to be changed.

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When state government officials attend meetings and events involving private-sector businesses a clash of cultures can occur, particularly when finance and investing are the focus.

For example, government officials are expected to be frugal with the taxpayers' dime while those in the private sector often can spend a bit more freely as the money belongs to them and the investors they answer to.

This can create uncomfortable situations when government officials are representing taxpayers in private sector business transactions.

What do government employees do at a dinner where the tab will be well over $100? Do they accept the meal as a guest, as those in the private sector are doing, or do they have the taxpayers cover the lavish meal?

Unfortunately, state of Oregon Treasury officials are opting for both. They accepted free meals and then accepted reimbursement from the taxpayers.

That is as outrageous as it is wrong.

Yet, this apparently is permissible under the Treasury office's policy.

Seeking state reimbursement for free meals is "acceptable practice within the agency," said Ron Schmitz, chief investment officer for Treasury's investment division.

Wow! It's time to change the practice.

An investigation by The Oregonian newspaper found Treasury officials routinely double dip. Here are a few examples from The Oregonian's report:

* Treasury investment officer Sam Green claimed $756 for meals on a five-day trip despite a free dinner at a five-star hotel in Vienna, along with other free meals at expensive restaurants.

* On a 16-day trip to Seoul, Hong Kong and Sydney last November, investment officer Andy Hayes claimed $2,300 for meal allowances. That covered every meal on the trip, though Treasury records show he was to attend multiple meetings where meals were provided, not to mention meals provided on several flights.

The Oregonian found other instances where meals were provided and expenses of $30 or so dollars were claimed.

Treasury officials argue -- or maybe that's rationalize -- collecting the extra cash for free meals is OK because travel allowances are often inadequate for business travel. Schmitz cited New York City, where the daily allowance was $64 last year. He said it only suffices "if you eat at the roach coach or McDonald's every day."

In addition, Deputy State Treasurer Darren Bond said the agency's per diems are intended to cover incidental expenses such as tips and magazines at an airport.

Even so, that goes well beyond accepting money for an expensive meal that was complimentary.

The solution is to demand officials who receive free meals to note that on their per diem request and an appropriate adjustment can be made. Government officials shouldn't be taking expense money for things they didn't buy.

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