Thursday, July 28, 2011

Policy on use of 4-wheel drive vehicles

Many people were concerned about the apparently absolute prohibition of 4-wheel drive vehicles in the newly posted travel policy. A statement of the problem is well put by Paul Bierman, below. A response from Claire Burlingham in the UVM Controller's office provides useful guidance that would be quite helpful as part of the stated policy.

On 7/7/2011 10:44 AM, Paul Bierman wrote (lightly edited by Breck Bowden here):
Hi Gary, Claire, and Dan,

Thanks for sending these [new travel] policies on.

When the draft travel policy was issued, a number of us faculty [identified in a cc list] returned comments to our supervisors [also listed] related to rental of four wheel drive vehicles for grant-supported field research. As geologists, ecologists, hydrologists, and natural scientists, there are many times when we need to rent 4 wheel drive vehicles for field access in remote and roadless ares - areas not accessible by the specific rental cars listed in the travel policy document.

In fact, from my experience our work on Army bases was only possible because we rented 4 wheel drives - had we shown up without such vehicles, we would have been denied access - that was made clear ahead of field work on several military bases. Our work in the remote ares of Africa also mandates the use of these vehicles; without them, there would be significant hazard of getting stuck and associated hazards to life and limb in places where rescue is not always quick or assured.

I articulated both of these concerns in my comments on the draft travel policy.
For reasons that I am not privy to, these comments were not considered in the final policy. Please [consider any map of the areas in which I work, including] Greenland, South Africa, and Namibia and imagine us in a compact car crossing dry river beds or rocky roads leading to glacial rivers. Our work as scientists demands we get to the field and 4 wheel drives are a tool of the trade. I was disturbed that UVM administration did not realize that there are legitimate uses of 4 wheel drive vehicles when issuing the draft policy.

I am more disturbed that after soliciting our input, that input was not incorporated in the final draft of the travel policy. The current policy effectively shuts down many natural science research programs or leaves us as faculty risking great personal expense should the charge be denied.
Note that the cost of 4 wheel drive vehicles is often specifically called out in the funding document. I respectfully ask that you re-examine the policy and add an exception for use of 4 wheel drive vehicles in remote areas approved by or mandated by sponsoring agencies.

Response from Clair Burlingham, Comptroller for UVM:
Thank you for your feedback regarding the rental of four wheel drive vehicles. The intent of Part III section 2 (4) was to not allow the rental of luxury or four wheel drive vehicles when a midsized car would be appropriate. We have seen many many instances where individuals have upgraded their rental to a luxury or four wheel drive vehicle when there was no business purpose and just because it was on the universities nickle. Certainly if there is a legitimate business purpose and the traveler has the approval of the Department Chair or Dean then the cost will be reimbursed. This will need to be reviewed and approved on a case by case basis. I hope this helps clarify this issue. If you have any additional questions or need further clarification please feel free to ask. Thank you, Claire

PS From Breck:
And so...there is stated policy and there is unstated policy. Logic dictates that if we promulgate policies, they should be complete in all details or should at least state that extenuating circumstances may allow decision-makers to allow justified costs on a case by case basis. In this case, a simple clarification to the existing policy would make sense.

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