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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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SMG 2343.2





Effective Date: 09/16/2008

[PDF Version]

 1. Purpose
 2. Background
 3. Policy
 4. Responsibilities
 5. Effective Date
 6. History


This guide provides FDA policy and reimbursement procedures for telephone calls home and laundry expenses while on official government travel.


The General Service Administration (GSA) provides authority for agencies to reimburse travelers for telephone calls home while on official travel incurring a minimum of one night’s lodging on official travel, either domestic or foreign. In addition, the GSA provides authority for agencies to reimburse travelers for laundry expenses incurred while on official travel inside the continental United States (CONUS) for at least four consecutive nights.


A. Telephone

Travelers on official government travel may make a brief telephone call to their residence at government expense. Travelers shall keep the cost of telephone calls CONUS or outside the continental United States (OCONUS) to a minimum to the government.

a. The telephone call(s) must be placed to the employee’s residence, the temporary caretaker of the employee’s residence while he/she is on official travel, a person with whom the employee normally shares his/her residence, a location where a dependent family member is housed, if that individual is unable to live alone, or a family member if there are no dependents.

b. If Government-provided long distance telephone systems and services (including government-issued calling cards and government cell phones) are not available, so that a commercial toll service must be used. If they do not have government-issued calling cards or cell phones, employees should make their allowable personal call(s) from the temporary duty station before departing for the day, to avoid incurring expensive commercial telephone charges

c. Employees are expected to incur telephone call expenses in the same manner as a prudent person would. An average of one call per day is authorized for domestic travel.

B. CONUS Travel

The Department’s policy for travel within CONUS (Continental US) is that reimbursement for personal telephone calls should be limited to actual expenses not to exceed an amount equal to $5.00 per night times the number of consecutive nights on official business.

If the traveler has been issued a government issued calling card, he/she shall make the brief telephone call home using the government issued calling card. The traveler can be reimbursed for any telephone access fees incurred, not to exceed the amount of one access charge per day. For example, if the hotel charges a $1.00 access fee each time the phone is used, than the employee may be reimbursed up to $1.00 per day.

C. Travel OCONUS

a. The determination that telephone calls home from a foreign country will be allowed must be made prior to the beginning of travel. Once that determination is made, authorization for these calls must be made on the travel authorization.

b. If the traveler is placing the telephone call home using a personal calling card, disposable phone card, collect, or dialing direct, the traveler can be reimbursed up to $10.00 per night.

c. Due to major cost differences in foreign phone rates, if the approving official determines that an increase above $10.00 is warranted then the authorizing official must also authorize the frequency and estimated cost of the telephone calls on the travel authorization. Major deviations beyond what is authorized on the travel authorization must be accompanied by a written justification describing the circumstances for the deviation. The authorizing official is responsible for reviewing such claims and making the final determination that the amounts claimed are reasonable. If the traveler has been issued a government cellular phone and has cellular service to his/her residence, the traveler shall use the government issued cellular phone to call his/her residence.

For Travel OCONUS to Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. territories and possessions follow the CONUS policy above, as calling conditions and rates are expected to be similar in these areas.

D. Receipt Requirements

If an employee incurs cost for personal calls under this policy (i.e., does not use government-provided long distance telephone systems and services for the call(s) he/she makes on travel), the employee must provide a receipt for those costs claimed on his/her travel voucher. Acceptable receipts include hotel bills with long distance telephone calls and numbers marked, and store receipts listing the purchase of pre-paid phone cards.

Employees must sign a certification to accompany the receipt(s), stating that the entire claimed expense was in fact incurred for telephone calls permissible under rules of this SMG.


However, foreign travel to remote areas where long distance telephone systems are inaccessible, the use for a personal cell phone may be authorized once it is determined necessary and authorized on the travel authorization prior to departure on travel. An itemized receipt indicating the specific cost for each call is required.

E. Personal Emergencies

Personal emergencies are defined as the death or serious illness or injury of a member of the employee’s immediate family or catastrophic occurrence or impending disaster such as fire, flood, terrorist act, or act of God, which directly affects the employee’s home at the official duty station or his/her immediate family and occurs while the employee is at, or en route to or from a temporary duty location. In this scenario, an employee may be reimbursed (via post-trip approval) for a personal call to a family physician or school official.

When personal emergencies occur, the approving official may approve a higher amount than standard reimbursement policy limitation when the following requirements are met:

a. Government-provided long distance telephone systems and services are not available, so that a commercial toll service must be used.

b. A justification for a higher personal telephone expense allowance must be documented on the approved travel voucher.

c. Receipts are required for all charges, to the extent that the calls were placed through a method that provides a receipt.

Employees should make personal calls during lunch, break or other off-duty periods, if at all possible. To the maximum extent, practicable employees should place calls on government-provided long distance telephone systems and services instead of using commercial toll services in accordance with the FDA policies.

F. Laundry

1. CONUS Travel

Expenses incurred for laundry, dry cleaning, and pressing of clothing are reimbursable as a miscellaneous travel expense. The employee must incur at least 4 consecutive nights of lodging on official travel within CONUS. Travelers will be reimbursed the actual amount incurred for laundry expenses, not to exceed an amount equal to: $5 times the number of consecutive nights on the trip for the first 30 days at a temporary duty travel location.

Receipts are required for ALL laundry/dry cleaning claimed for reimbursement (except coin-operated machine usage where receipts are not available).

Sample Coin-Operated Machine Certification Language:

I certify as true and correct, that I used coin-operated laundry facilities while on official government travel. I incurred the following costs.

Laundry Soap2 loads at $1.00 per load$2.00
Washer2 loads at $.75 per load$1.50
Dryer2 loads at $.75 per load$1.50
Total laundry cost incurred $5.00

_____________________ Traveler's Signature

For the Department’s policy on laundry expenses incurred during Long Term Temporary Duty Assignments and Emergency Situations please consult the DHHS Travel Manual Chapter 4 .2

2. OCONUS Travel

Laundry, dry cleaning, and pressing of clothing expenses are covered under the Meals and Incidental Expense (M&IE) portion of the per diem. They may not be authorized or approved as a separate miscellaneous expense item. Travelers shall not voucher separately for any laundry expenses when on travel to an OCONUS location. For additional information, see the Department of State travel regulations.


Offices of FDA. The immediate office, or other designated office of the traveler shall prepare all necessary travel documents associated with the approval of the travel. Each Center/Office Delegated Approving Official shall authorize the travel authorization and travel voucher.


This policy was signed by John P. Gentile, Associate Commissioner for Operations, effective September 16, 2008.

 6. Document History -- SMG 2343.2, Telephone Calls Home and Laundry While On Official Government Travel

Initial09/16/2008N/aOC/OO/OM/OFMJohn P. Gentile, Associate Commissioner for Operations