GSA Lowers Hotel Per Diem

There's not much room at the inn for government workers these days.

Prince William County hoteliers are increasingly turning away government workers, military personnel and contractors because of the lower rates the government now pays for hotel stays.

The General Services Administration lowered the rate for which workers will be reimbursed for hotel stays in Manassas and Woodbridge to $70 from $84 per night in fiscal 2005. More than a year ago, Smith Travel Research of Hendersonville, Tenn., began surveying hotels in different areas for the GSA, which pays different lodging rates in 420 areas of the country. GSA officials would not elaborate why the rate was lowered.

Hoteliers say the reduced rates are hurting their bottom line. According to a price survey they conducted in April, 15 of 17 hotels in the area charge more than $70 per night, with seven charging more than $100.

"That puts them in a situation where they can't generate the revenue they need to stay in business," said Laurie Wieder, president of the Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce, which includes a tourism and hospitality council.

Because government workers are allowed to spend as much as $153 per night in nearby Fairfax County hotels, some are crossing the county line to do so. The GSA considers Fairfax part of Northern Virginia and the District, so government workers have a $153 per night budget for hotels in those areas.

"Instead of welcoming a government worker in, I have to say no," said Kathy Gilbert, who manages the Fairfield Inn near Potomac Mills, an 80-room hotel with regular rates of $104. "I'm going to be displacing somebody at $104."

About 40 percent of her customers are government employees and contractors working at the military bases in Quantico and Fort Belvoir.

Chamber officials and hoteliers are trying to persuade the GSA to increase the per diem. But such requests need to come from federal agencies, so local officials are working with the FBI and Quantico Marine Corps Base on the issue.

Rocketing Into History

Workers for BAE Systems' facility in Manassas played a part in the Independence Day collision of a NASA spacecraft into a comet.

BAE employees built the two RAD750 computers aboard the spacecraft used in the Deep Impact mission. The computers helped navigate the satellite to the comet Tempel 1.

The mission provided the first glimpse beneath the surface of a comet on July 4, when the spacecraft separated and one part collided into the comet while the flyby spacecraft recorded the images of the collision and its result.

Unemployment Creeps Up

Prince William County's unemployment rate rose slightly in April and May after 22 months of falling.

The preliminary unemployment rate in May was 2.7 percent, up from 2.5 percent in May 2004, as the county's labor force increased by nearly 17,000 people. The county's April unemployment rate was 2.6 percent, up from 2.4 percent the same time last year.

County Department of Economic Development spokesman Jason Grant said officials are monitoring the rate but "it's not enough to constitute a trend at this point."

To help unemployed people gain access to jobs, the SkillSource Group Inc. recently received a $481,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. The group, which is a nonprofit arm of the Northern Virginia Workforce Investment Board, will use the 18-month grant to help jobseekers learn English, improve their reading and math skills, find reliable transportation and child care and resolve other challenges they face in finding jobs.

The investment board represents more than 13,000 businesses in Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties.


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