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Tens of Millions Spent on State Agency Travel

As South Carolina struggles to recover from the Great Recession, state agencies in recent years have increased spending on travel in and out of the Palmetto State.

A review by The Nerve of annual state travel reports by S.C. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom found that the total amount spent on travel increased from $61.9 million in fiscal 2009 to more than $69.6 million last fiscal year, which ended June 30 – a jump of more than $7.7 million, or 12.5 percent.

The totals include in-state and out-of-state conference registration fees; and travel, lodging and meal expenses for non-state employees under contract with state agencies. Expenditures paid from state, federal and “other” revenues, as listed in the annual state budget bill, are covered in the reports.

A total of 114 agencies, divisions and special state funds were included in Eckstrom’s report for fiscal 2013, which was released on Nov. 7.

In each of the last five fiscal years, Clemson University led all state agencies in travel spending, followed closely by the University of South Carolina. Clemson’s travel from fiscal 2009 through last fiscal year jumped by more than $2.5 million, or about 26 percent, to nearly $12.4 million.

USC’s travel spiked upward over the same period by nearly $2.9 million, or 32 percent, to about $11.8 million.

And those figures likely are conservative because they don’t include travel financed with university foundation funds or other private revenue sources. The reports, for example, name the top individual travelers for each agency, though Clemson’s and USC’s head football coaches and university presidents aren’t listed in those groups.

Gov. Nikki Haley didn’t make the top-traveler list for her office, though she travels extensively in and out of South Carolina. Her most recent quarterly campaign report filed with the State Ethics Commission, for example, lists nearly $6,000 in travel and accommodation expenses paid with campaign contributions.

The Nerve’s review found that the 10 agencies that spent the most on travel over the past five fiscal years accounted for 66 percent to 68 percent of the total spent by all agencies. Following is a list of the top-10 spenders for fiscal 2013:

  • Clemson University – $12.36 million;
  • University of South Carolina – $11.78 million;
  • College of Charleston – $6.18 million;
  • Medical University of South Carolina – $5.99 million;
  • Department of Health and Environmental Control – $3.43 million;
  • S.C. State University – $2.42 million;
  • Judicial Department – $1.59 million;
  • Winthrop University – $1.43 million;
  • Coastal Carolina University – $1.26 million; and
  • Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation – $1.25 million.

Of the top-10 spenders listed above, the College of Charleston recorded the biggest percentage increase over the five-year period – 80 percent – jumping $2.75 million from $3.43 million spent in fiscal 2009.

In agency summaries that were provided for Eckstrom’s report, the College of Charleston said its travel is “completed in the most expeditious and financially responsible manner as required by state regulation.”

Clemson in its summary said its travel expenses are funded with federal and “other earmarked sources,” noting that many of the university’s federally funded and sponsored travel “require employee travel to meet external funding requirements.”

USC said its travel is designated “for the purpose of student instruction, academic enrichment, faculty research, student programs and recruitment, donor development, and faculty and staff professional development.”

The three state employees with the highest individual travel tabs last fiscal year, according to Eckstrom's report, were:

  • Kendall Roth, USC's senior associate dean for international programs and partnerships at the Darla Moore School of Business - $55,601 (mostly out-of-state travel);
  • G. Kumar Venayagamoorthy, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Clemson - $51,131 (mostly out-of-state travel); and 
  • Adriana Chacon, the program manager of USC's Guinea Equatorial Geosciences Program - $50,170 (all out-of-state travel).

Excluding non-state employee travel expenses from the fiscal 2013 report, the 124-member S.C. House of Representatives moved into the No. 10 spot as having the highest travel expenditures among state agencies, listing $983,462 in total spending. In comparison, the 46-member Senate recorded $489,810 in travel expenses last fiscal year, which landed the chamber in the No. 22 slot, according to the report.

The chairmen of the General Assembly’s budget writing committees – Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, and Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence – were the top travelers in their respective chambers in fiscal 2013, recording $12,365 and $18,686, respectively - all of it for in-state trips, according to Eckstrom's report.

Lawmakers receive mileage reimbursement for travel between their homes and the State House in Columbia while the Legislature is in and out of session, plus reimbursement for other approved legislative travel.

Since 2010, The Nerve has examined the public costs incurred by lawmakers, including mileage reimbursements. The Nerve in 2010 reported, for example, that lawmakers receive an average of about $32,000 in salary and expense reimbursements, including travel costs, for their part-time positions.

In its summary included with Eckstrom’s report for fiscal 2013, the House said in addition to in-state mileage reimbursement, taxpayer funds were used for out-of-state for conferences, workshops and task force meetings.

“At these events they heard from and were guided by the knowledge of experts and the experiences from colleagues in other states,” the House summary said. “These events also allow South Carolina members to develop networks of contacts across the country so that they may continue to effectively and efficiently cooperate with other states and learn from their experiences after the events have concluded.”

The House’s summary didn’t give any specifics on out-of-state destinations. The Senate’s summary listed out-of-state trips to Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Nashville; and New Orleans - mainly for conferences or meetings.

In addition, the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms attended a conference last fiscal year in Toronto “related to his duties on a national level,” according to the chamber’s summary, though it didn't give any specifics on the "national" duties.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

 

Accountability General Assembly Judiciary Other Funds State Agencies Transparency

University of South Carolina S.C. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom Clemson University Sen. Hugh Leatherman Gov. Nikki Haley Rep. Brian White