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How Much Should Taxpayers Pay For Pension Trustee Travel?

 According to "Detroit pension trustees take flight on funds' tab" (June 14, 2009), Detroit Free Press journalist Jennifer Dixon ponders how much is too much when it comes to trustee travel. I agreed to speak on the record about general best practices and want to add that I am not familiar with the situation in Detroit. I have excerpted my comments below:

"Susan Mangiero, president of Pension Governance Inc., an independent research, analysis and training company in Trumbull, Conn., said public pension plans need 'a clear policy about travel...It's public money, and taxpayers and plan participants would like to know the money is being properly spent.'"

I further suggested that an effective policy should address whether vendors are allowed to pay for trips, adding that "It's important to have policies on what is deemed to be a legitimate and reasonable expense, from a governance aspect and budget aspect."

Given the current environment of cutbacks and layoffs, a review of what constitutes prudent and necessary travel is a no brainer. An effective policy should also lay out rules for travel, conference attendance and so on when the fund has hired an outside consultant or fund of funds manager who is supposed to be doing some of the legwork along the way.

We've heard anecdotally that many pension decision-makers are being discouraged if not outright banned from taking trips right now, urged to fly coach, share hotel rooms and/or otherwise drastically reduce cash outlays.

For those who have yet to adopt a comprehensive travel policy for investment fiduciaries, bon voyage!