074 Reporting Data for Post (“Cost of Living”) Allowances and Per Diem Allowances
074.1 DS 2020-2021 and DS 2026
The Retail Price Schedule consists of four parts.
DS 2020-2021 (parts 1 through 4) serves as the basis for any post (cost-of-living) allowance. DS-2026, Hotel and Restaurant Report, is used to determine the appropriate per diem allowance for the post.
The Office of Allowances of the Department of State will provide copies of the forms to posts required to submit the report, and to others on request. DS 2020-21 and DS 2026 are also available on the Department of State's external ( http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/forms) and internal ( http://eforms.a.state.gov/searchform.aspx) web sites. (eff. TL:SR )
074.2 Required Submission of DS 2020-2021 and DS 2026
As shown in Sections 072.11 and 072.12, DS 2026 (Hotel and Restaurant Report) will be submitted by new posts and the DS 2020-21 and/or DS 2026 (Retail Price Schedule and/or Hotel and Restaurant Report) by established posts in accordance with reporting requirements in Section 920.
All agencies having responsibility to prepare and submit reports shall provide complete, accurate and supportable information in the biennial hotel and restaurant reports. Reporting posts shall maintain a record of the reservations made in local hotels for Federal travelers and use this information as the basis for selecting lodging facilities for the biennial hotel and restaurant reports. To the maximum extent possible, this information should be fully representative of all hotel reservations made for typical Federal travelers by all U.S. Government agencies in a specific location.
DS 2020-2021 and DS 2026 shall be sent to the Department of State, Office of Allowances, under cover of a memorandum signed by the officer responsible for preparing the reports certifying that the Hotel and Restaurant Report (DS 2026) is accurate, complete, current and in compliance with the Standardized Regulations. For the Retail Price Schedule (DS 2020-2021), the certification statement shall state that the retail outlets selected are based on current living pattern questionnaires and that the reports were prepared in accordance with section 074.4 (guidance/instructions). This certification statement shall also indicate that the last Living Pattern Questionnaires were completed in full compliance with the instructions in section 074.4.
074.3 Submission of Cost of Living Information and Voluntary Forms DS 2020-2021
Cost of living information and voluntary DS 2020-2021 reports may be submitted at any time. In general, upward allowance adjustments will be made only upon receipt of a complete price schedule. The filing of an interim price report does not relieve the post of responsibility for submitting the next regularly scheduled report. All voluntary reports shall be submitted with signed certification statements as described in Section 074.2.
074.31 Changes in Living Costs
Major changes affecting living costs at the post should be reported promptly to the Department of State (Attention: Office of Allowances). These include major changes in the currency exchange rate available to employees for personal expenditures; the opening or closing of commissaries and post exchanges; the availability of other special facilities; and important changes in personal import duties, restrictions and taxes. If the living pattern information is no longer current, revised pages and current Living Pattern Questionnaires should be submitted with the above information. Upon receipt of this material the Department will determine if a current Retail Price Schedule report is required.
074.32 Changes in Hotel Situation
Whenever a substantial change in hotel costs occurs, new hotels are built or old ones cease to be available or acceptable, a revised DS 2026 should be sent in advance of the regularly scheduled submission so that the travel per diem rate may be reconsidered.
074.4 Instructions for the Retail Price Schedule (DS 2020 and 2021) and Hotel and Restaurant Report (DS 2026)
The instructions below and on DS 2020I and DS 2021I should be followed in completing the Retail Price Schedule. The instructions on DS 2026 should be followed in preparing the Hotel and Restaurant Report.
074.41 Forms Necessary for Completing the Retail Price Schedule and the Hotel and Restaurant Report
Living Pattern Questionnaire (DS 1996)
Retail Price Schedule (RPS)
DS 2020, RPS, Part 1, Outlet Report
DS 2020, RPS, Part 2, Living Pattern Questionnaire Summary
DS 2020, RPS, Part 3, Retail Prices
DS 2020I, Instructions for Completing the DS-2020-Retail Price Schedule, Parts 1-3
DS 2021, RPS, Part 4, Embassy or Consulate Store Survey
DS 2021I, Instructions for Completing the Embassy or Consulate Store Survey
DS 2026, Hotel and Restaurant Report
Information from the Living Pattern Questionnaire and Retail Price Schedule is used to develop (a) the post (cost-of-living) allowance for U.S. Government civilians in foreign areas; (b) the Department of State “Indexes of Living Costs Abroad” used by private organizations; and (c) the U.S. Department of Defense Cost-of-Living Allowances (COLA) for members of the Uniformed Services. Information from the Hotel and Restaurant Report is used to review and establish foreign travel per diem allowances.
074.42 Submission of Reports
The submission of reports for civilians is explained in Section 070 of the Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR).
The preparation and submission of reports for military members is explained in Appendix M of the Joint Federal Travel Regulations (JFTR).
The Retail Price Schedule (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), Instructions for Completing the Retail Price Schedule, and the Hotel and Restaurant Report are available on the Department of State's web sites (http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/forms) (external) and (http://eforms.a.state.gov/searchform.aspx)(internal). MS Word versions of the Retail Price Schedule, RPS instructions, and the Hotel and Restaurant Report are also available from the Office of Allowances, Department of State, upon request.
074.43 Living Pattern Questionnaire (LPQ) (DS 1996)
It is necessary to survey American Government employees at the post to secure information on their living patterns. This will be especially important at posts where Americans patronize a wide variety of retail outlets and buy a wide variety of commodities. A new living pattern survey must be conducted at least every five years or whenever there is a substantial change in overall employee living patterns at the post.
When an employee living pattern survey is considered necessary, it must precede the price collection for the Retail Price Schedule, so that employees' comments and information on the use of particular outlets and household help are in the hands of the responsible officer before the price survey begins. To conduct a living pattern survey, the DS 1996 should be reproduced and distributed to employees of all U.S. Government agencies at the post. Only those employees at the post for six months or longer need to be included in the survey. Only one questionnaire needs to be submitted per household.
Employees of all government agencies, including active-duty military personnel at post, should complete the questionnaire. If living patterns of uniformed personnel differ, their LPQs should be tabulated separately and separate DS 2020, Part 2, Living Pattern Questionnaire Summaries, prepared. The separate pages should be clearly marked “civilian” and “military” and both sets submitted with the other parts of the Retail Price Schedule to the Office of Allowances, Department of State.
The LPQ provides important information to the price collector and the Office of Allowances that is an integral part of the analysis process. In order to be valid, employees need to sign the form and complete it in full.
Page 1: Provides general information about the employee and his/her family.
Pages 2 and 3: Employees record their two most frequently used local retail outlets for the various consumer goods and services. (The price collector will tally the results to determine the most frequently used retail outlets and then visit those outlets to collect the prices of the goods and services listed in the Retail Price Schedule. The price collector should record the tally results of the two most frequently used retail outlets on DS 2020, Part 1, Outlet Report, pages 3 and 4.)
Pages 3 and 4: Employees report the percentage of goods they purchase locally, at the embassy or consulate commissary, at U.S. military facilities, from catalogues, mail order, internet, brought to post, or other foreign location(s). (The price collector will tally these results and report the average percentages in the appropriate columns on DS 2020, Part 2, Living Pattern Questionnaire Summary, pages 6 and 7.)
Page 4, item 9: If the employees report purchases from other foreign locations on pages 3 and 4, the location(s) and retail source(s) should be identified under item 9 on page 4. (The price collector will tabulate these results and report the name(s) of other foreign location(s) on DS 2020, Part 2, Living Pattern Questionnaire Summary, page 8 under Item 5 at “Name of Other Foreign Location” and “Comments”, if more space is needed..)
Page 5: Employees report the relative use of commodities and services including Fruits, Meats/Seafood, Vegetables, Transportation, Dining, Special Arrangements and Household Help. (The price collector tabulates the results and reports the average percentages in the appropriate columns on DS 2020, Part 2, Living Pattern Questionnaire Summary, page 8.)
074.44 Importance of the Retail Price Schedule and the Hotel and Restaurant Report
The Retail Price Schedule (DS 2020 and DS 2021), used to measure living cost differences between foreign posts and Washington, D.C., serves as the basis for determining (1) any "post" (cost-of-living) allowance for Federal civilian employees; (2) the U.S. Department of Defense cost-of-living allowances (COLA) for members of the Uniformed Services; and (3) cost-of-living comparisons for American business firms and other organizations who maintain allowances for private Americans.
The Embassy or Consulate Store Survey (DS 2021) is used to report prices at Embassy and Consulate Commissaries or Employee Association Stores. In locations with such facilities, these prices are an integral part of determining the cost of living.
The Hotel and Restaurant Report (Form DS 2026) is used to maintain appropriate foreign travel per diem allowances for U.S. Government personnel (civilian and uniformed services).
In order to be a statistically valid survey and reasonably reflect living conditions at the post, at least two-thirds (67%) of eligible personnel (only one employee per household is eligible, and only an employee who has been at post for more than six months) must complete the LPQs in years when they are submitted. The survey team should use a follow-up procedure to encourage maximum participation, such as a town meeting, announcements in the post newsletter, and memoranda from the principal officer or senior official. If unusual or extenuating circumstances somehow prevent fulfillment of the participation requirements, the post must explain the circumstances in a cover memorandum, forwarded with the survey questionnaires.
Living Pattern Questionnaire survey forms must be submitted to the Office of Allowances, Department of State, along with the completed Retail Price Schedule.
For posts with a large number of Federal civilian employees, conducting a survey of all employees can be time-consuming and possibly unnecessary. At the discretion of the survey team, a sampling technique may be used. This sample must consist of at least 150 employees with names drawn at random by Federal grade level. The random sampling method means that every employee at each specified grade level must have an equal chance of being selected.
Posts employing sampling technique are to describe in a cover memo the method used.
074.45 Preparation for Retail Price Survey
Normally, Administrative or Personnel Officers are responsible for preparing this survey. Neither the responsibility for the survey nor the price collection should ever be delegated to non-American employees.
IMPORTANT: This survey must accurately reflect foreign living costs for the average American family. The index numbers computed from the survey are designed to reflect costs for the average Washington, DC family living in the foreign area. This family consists of three to four persons with a base salary of a GS-11, Step 5, without locality pay (approximately FS-5, Step 8 overseas salary table). The survey officer must be familiar with the retail outlets and types of goods and services generally used by this average family.
Since the welfare of all U.S. citizen Government employees is involved, the officer with overall responsibility for the survey must contact the heads of all local civilian U.S. agencies and the senior officer of the uniformed services at the post. The responsible officer will invite each of these parties to participate in and comment upon the survey. Before the responsible officer forwards the survey results to Washington, he/she must obtain written concurrence with the results from each of the above parties by having each of them initial a cover letter to the report that so indicates. If any of the signatory parties do not concur on the results, the responsible officer should attempt to coordinate a resolution of the differences at post. However, if the differences cannot be resolved or if the resolution would involve changes to the methodology or the sampling strategy of the survey, the responsible officer should forward a statement of the differences of opinion, along with the uncoordinated survey results, to the Director, Office of Allowances, U.S. Department of State. The responsible officer should also request the head of the dissenting agency to forward a memorandum to his/her Washington office with an explanation of the objections that can be used in further discussions with the Office of Allowances.
When there are significant differences in the local outlets and actual items used by the military, or where the sources of supply differ between civilian and military personnel, the responsible survey officer should ask the senior officer of the uniformed services to submit supplementary information or a separate survey report as provided by Appendix M of the Joint Federal Travel Regulations.
Since the local private American community may be affected by the survey results, the responsible survey official may also ask for suggestions from the local American community for improving the report to better reflect private American living conditions. However, this coordination should not detract from the objective of the survey: to reflect living costs and conditions of the average Federal family. Any differences from the private American community should be submitted as an attachment to the completed report. This supplementary information will be used, when possible, to derive cost comparisons for use by the public. Such suggestions should, however, reflect a general consensus among the private Americans at the post, rather than the ideas of just a few individuals.
Notice of Upcoming Survey
If the Retail Price Schedule is required by DSSR Section 920, the Office of Allowances will remind post of the need to submit a report. The reminder will be sent to the post at least 30 days before the new report is due.
If a post has not received notice that a survey is required but is considering a voluntary submission of the survey, the Office of Allowances should be notified before the survey is started. This will enable the Department to advise the post of any matters that the post should consider before completing the unscheduled survey. The Department can also verify that posts have the most recent forms and a copy of the training video.
074.46 Basic Survey Techniques
The responsible survey officer can either collect retail price information himself/herself, or that officer can identify one or more employees or U.S. citizen spouses or U.S. citizen domestic partners to collect the information. However, the responsibility for the final report remains with the responsible survey officer. Price collectors must personally visit the retail outlets covered in the survey. In addition to personally inspecting the items and their prices, it is important that the price collector meet the store or department manager and obtain his/her cooperation, which is essential for a good survey. Price collectors should identify themselves as U.S. officials and explain the reasons for the survey and its importance to the American community. The price collector should ask to collect the information on his or her own. In a large store, he or she should request the names of the managers of the various departments.
The nature of survey sampling requires that the price collector gather specific information from each retail source. Detailed item specifications are in DS 2020I and DS 2021I. In order to accurately compare costs at the foreign post with those in Washington, D.C., it is important that the price collector follow these specifications as closely as local conditions permit.
The price collector should see the actual items rather than relying on an inventory list from the store manager in order to judge the suitability of individual items for American employees.
Sometimes it is necessary for price collectors to pledge confidentiality or to place other restrictions on the use of data they collect from a specific retail establishment. Any such restrictions must be clearly noted by the responsible survey official in an attachment to the survey report. This specific proprietary information will then not be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. This is an important point, as the ability of the program to obtain objective and reliable price data hinges upon the goodwill and cooperation of the retail merchants participating in the survey.
074.47 Selection of Outlets and Selection of Prices
The price collector will identify the two most frequently used local retail establishments at post for the various categories of retail products (e.g., beef, seafood, men’s clothes) by tallying pages two and three of the individual Living Pattern Questionnaires completed by employees. The retail price collector must visit these retail establishments to collect information on the corresponding goods and services. If an establishment no longer carries a particular product, a substitute outlet which also is popular among U.S. government and private personnel should be chosen and the information collected. (Note that the retail establishment must be available to government, military, and private personnel.) Use the comments section of the appropriate pages to fully explain why the substitution was necessary.
The Retail Price Schedule lists the names of specific items (and, sometimes, specific sizes) and requests the Typical Retail Price for those items (e.g., steak, apples, canned vegetables (15-17 oz.)).
(a) The items priced should be as close as possible in quality to those found in the U.S.
(b) If a survey item is available at more than one price and no size is specified on the package, report the price for the one that appears to be the closest to that requested in DS 2020I and DS 2021I.
(c) If a requested size is not available, the closest equivalent size should be selected.
(d) If a requested item is not available at the retail outlet, a comparable item may be substituted but this substitution must be explained in the comments section of the appropriate page of the DS 2020.
(e) Embassy or consulate commissary prices should be reported only on DS 2021.
For most survey items, the report also asks for substitute price items.
The Substitute Price Item represents the item most often purchased as the consumer's second choice when the typical item is unavailable. This item may be more or less expensive than the typically priced item. In some cases, it may be an identical price but represent a different brand or item variation.
The retail price collector should use his/her judgment, based upon an average American family’s selection of items and normal budget constraints, to select items which would represent substitute items.
The reporting of two price levels where appropriate is important. If an item is temporarily out of stock, the price last charged should be listed in the report. Anticipated price changes should be given separately. Every effort should be made to provide the full price range requested for a particular outlet. If either the first or second most frequently used outlets do not carry the item requested, the price collector should visit another retail outlet (preferably, the third most used outlet as determined by the LPQs) to collect the price data.
All prices in the report should be those actually paid by Americans. If a survey item is on sale, the regular price, the special sale price, and the duration of the sale must be reported. If the reported prices do not include local retail sales taxes, the amount of tax added to each item by the merchant (at the time of purchase) should be clearly reported at the top of the appropriate pages of the Retail Price Schedule. Special cash discounts and delivery charges should be reported in the “description” or “comments” areas. If the price includes Value Added Tax (VAT), the VAT percentage should also be reported.
If prices are significantly lower when purchased with U.S. dollars or other forms of currency, this should be reported.
074.48 Summary of Survey Preparation Guidelines
(a) Normally, Administrative or Personnel Officers have overall responsibility for preparation of the Retail Price Schedule report. The price collector must always be a U.S. citizen.
(b) The responsible officer at each post will coordinate the survey with all other U.S. Government agencies at the post, the senior officer of the uniformed services, and the American private community.
(c) The 2008 version of the Retail Price Schedule (DS 2020and DS 2021) must be used with these instructions.
(d) If (1) five years have passed since employees last completed LPQs at a post, (2) the information on pages 6-7 of DS 2020 does not reflect current employee living patterns, or (3) this is a post’s first Retail Price Schedule survey, an employee LPQ survey (DS 1996) must be conducted.
(e) If there has been a previous survey, it must be used as a guide in preparing the new survey report. To the extent possible, report the prices of the same type, brand, or model of individual items from survey to survey. Avoid item substitution beyond that required by the item specifications or changes in local availability.
(f) The survey must reflect living costs for the average Washington family, 3 to 4 persons, living in the foreign location with a base salary of about a GS-11, Step 5, without locality pay (approximately FS-5, step 8 overseas salary table). The price collector should avoid premium or luxury goods this family cannot afford, even if he/she can.
(g) Report prices in the currency charged by the individual outlet. Explain all usage of non-local currency. The price collector should NOT convert local currency prices into U.S. dollars.
(h) Report local weights and measures for each individual item. The price collector should NOT convert local weight measures (e.g. kilos) into pounds and ounces.
(i) All “most frequently used outlet” and “second most used outlet” prices reported on DS 2020 must be local retail prices available to all American residents, including uniformed military and private U.S. citizens.
(j) Report prices of goods available at Embassy and Consulate Commissaries on DS 2021. These prices are reported separately and in addition to the prices at the two most frequently used local retail outlets (DS 2020).
(k) The finished report should be reviewed by the responsible survey officer for completeness and accuracy, and then coordinated with the heads of all civilian agencies at the post and the senior officer of the uniformed services before submission.
(l) Submit the completed report, including DS 2026 and Living Pattern Questionnaires (when appropriate), to the Office of Allowances (A/OPR/ALS), Department of State. Submission of the report through agency channels is explained in DSSR Section 070.
074.49 Review Before Submission
(a) Omissions - When completed, the responsible survey officer should carefully review the report to make certain that all the information requested is furnished. While all the items may not necessarily be used by U.S. Government employees at a particular post, each represents a broad class of other goods and services important to Americans. The omission of any price quotation eliminates the type of expenditure it represents and thus makes a comparison with the Washington price more difficult. In those cases where goods and services are available to Government employees through special facilities, some local items are important to living-cost comparisons made for private Americans residing at the post. In addition, should there be a sudden change in the availability of special facilities for Federal employees, this local price information will enable the Department to make allowance adjustments without a time-consuming survey of the missing items.
(b) Inconsistencies with Previous Survey - The responsible survey officer must compare all current prices and weights with the previous survey. If the prices or weights are substantially different, provide explanations or comments so that the Department will not assume there is an error in the current report. If errors are discovered in the previous survey, this should be reported so that a valid comparison between the reports can be made.