S.C. slow to cut travel costs, agency reports

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's government is spending more money than it needs to on state employee meals when workers travel but don't stay overnight, according to a follow-up report from the Legislative Audit Council released Tuesday.

The agency reviewed state travel practices in a May 2005 report and made 14 recommendations. Five of those were put in place, including limiting hotel room costs to levels set by the federal government and requiring shared rooms at conferences.

The state continues to pay for workers' meals when they're not out of town overnight. The report found that practice cost the state $324,000 in the 2006 fiscal year.

The state also hasn't limited lodging and meal reimbursements for foreign travel, spending $73,000 on those reimbursements in fiscal 2006.

The foreign travel figures are particularly troubling to state Rep. Herb Kirsh, D-Clover.

"I think that needs reining in," said Kirsh, who called for putting in place more recommendations from the audit.

Other recommendations that haven't been implemented include setting up a central state travel agency and contracting with airlines for favorable fares. The state also could limit travel reimbursements for the state Employment Security Commission and Workers' Compensation Commission, which currently don't follow levels set for state workers.

Travel costs aren't a huge part of the state budget. An annual report released in November shows just under $63 million was spent on state travel and meals, according to the state comptroller general's office. The state's budget that year, including federal money that covered some travel costs, was more than $18 billion.

Colleges spent the most, covering travel for professors and coaches. Clemson University spent $12.7 million on travel and meals and the University of South Carolina spent $10.8 million, accounting for more than a third of all state spending on lodging and food.

Asif Khan, who is the chairman of the University of South Carolina's electrical engineering department, led the report's list of individual spending with $64,713, followed by $47,295 spent by Clemson University's Anand Gramopadhye, who is chairman of the industrial engineering department.

Former Clemson men's basketball recruiting coordinator Kevin Nickleberry was third with $43,167. He is now head basketball coach at Hampton University.