Business Class Travel is Not a Thing of the Past?

Singapore Airlines New Business classImage via Wikipedia

Each OES official used business class for every trip

The State Department’s OIG office had just posted its limited review of Business Class Travel Made by Front Office Officials of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (AUD/SI-09-08, Jan. 2009). The review was apparently requested by U/S for Management Patrick F. Kennedy. Below is an excerpt:

Per your December 2008 request, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a limited review of business class travel made by officials of the Front Office of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) during fiscal years 2007 and 2008. The purpose of the review was to determine whether the OES Assistant Secretary and the four deputy assistant secretaries complied with federal and Department of State guidance as it relates to overseas and business class travel. OIG found that OES officials did not always adhere to travel regulations for properly preparing, authorizing, and maintaining documentation required by the guidance.
OIG reviewed 30 travel authorizations; 30 travel vouchers; and supporting documentation that included DS Form 4087, Authorization Request for Business Class Air Travel, memoranda, travel itineraries, airline tickets, and receipts for lodging and miscellaneous expenses. OIG compared the travel authorizations with the itineraries and the vouchers to determine when travel authorizations were created, authorizations were properly approved by a supervisor, and expenses were accurate and allowable.

OIG found that business class travel expenses represented $258,512 (about 83%) of the $311,154 of total travel expenses for the 30 vouchers. Each OES official used business class for every trip.

Of the 30 travel authorizations reviewed, OIG identified the following deficiencies (more than one deficiency may apply to one authorization):

  • 25 authorizations included a DS Form 4087 citing travel in excess of 14 hours, the length of travel required to justify business class accommodations. However:

    • Five of these trips were actually less than 14 hours (from one TDY stop to another).

    • Four of these authorizations were signed by officials at a leve1 lower than that of the traveler.

    • Three authorizations had no authorization signature, employee signature, or authorization date.

  • 5 travel authorizations did not include a DS Form 4087.

  • 8 authorizations included actual expenses for lodging and meals but were not supported by a memorandum indicating approval that actual expenses could be incurred. The analysis showed that lodging expenses exceeded the established per diem rate by up to $188 per night.

  • 11 authorizations were prepared after the traveler had returned from TDY.

  • 7 authorizations did not reflect the business class authorization in Section 5, “Other Authorizations,” or Section 11, “GTR Ticket Information” of the travel authorizations.

The IG office was careful to point out that “the Department’s travel regulations are clear and are in agreement with Federal Travel Regulations. The requirements are not flexible but are important in the government-wide policy on travel. However, additional oversight is needed to ensure that OES Front Office staff complies with the established travel regulations.”

Holy mother of goat and all her crazy nephews!

Let’s rewind a few years back when the State Department was slammed hard for its ineffective oversight on business class travel, as a result of which everyone — with very few exceptions, even those traveling over 14 hours, were no longer allowed to travel business class. Read on and weep:

From the GAO’s 2006 report State’s Centrally Billed Foreign Affairs Travel: Internal Control Breakdowns and Ineffective Oversight Lost Taxpayers Tens of Millions of Dollars | March 2006):

“We found that some of State’s top executives, including some under secretaries and assistant secretaries, often used premium-class travel regardless of the length of the flight. We found that State spent over $1 million dollars on premium-class flights for 17 senior executives during most of fiscal years 2003 and 2004. Our analysis indicated that most of these flights were domestic or to destinations in Western Europe or South America and did not last more than the 14 hours required by federal and state regulations to justify use of premium-class travel. Further, many of the executives used blanket travel orders signed by subordinates to justify purchasing premium-class travel. […] We continue to consider authorization of premium-class travel by employees subordinate to the traveler to be a weak internal control due to both the additional cost and the potential for abuse associated with premium-class travel. As we have reported in the past, travel authorized by subordinates is in effect self authorization, which constitutes a lack of controls over executive premium-class travel.”

I wonder if that GAO report was required reading for the engine room bees who wanted to argue about traveling over 14 hours, but not for officers on the bridge?

The Acting IG, Harold W. Geisel writes that OIG “would appreciate a response from an appropriate Department official within 30 days as to the actions taken or planned to address recommendation.” Here is the old crew of the OES Bureau before the new Administration took over. Who’s left behind to give an appropriate response?

New US Visa Fees Proposed

A B1/B2 visa to the United StatesImage via Wikipedia

This was announced yesterday by the Office of the Spokesman:

On December 14, 2009, the Department of State published a proposed rule in the Federal Register to increase the nonimmigrant visa application processing fees, also called the Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) fee, and Border Crossing Card (BCC) fees. The proposed rule also establishes a tiered structure with separate fees for different visa categories.

The Department is proposing the increase to ensure sufficient resources to cover the increasing cost of processing nonimmigrant visas (NIVs). This increase applies both to nonimmigrant visas placed in passports and to border crossing cards issued to certain adult applicants in Mexico.

The new tiered fee structure was created to cover the higher unit costs for processing certain categories of nonimmigrant visas that are more complicated and require more in-depth consideration than most other categories of nonimmigrant visas. U.S. law requires the Department to attempt to recover the cost of processing nonimmigrant visas through the collection of the application fees. Because of ongoing process and security enhancements, the $131 fee set on January 1, 2008 is lower than the current, actual cost of processing nonimmigrant visas.

Under the proposed rule, applicants for all visas that are not petition-based, including B1/B2 tourist and business visitor visas and all student and exchange visitor visas, would pay a fee of $140.

Applicants for petition-based visas would pay an application fee of $150. These categories include:

· H visa for temporary workers and trainees
· L visa for intracompany transferees
· O visa for aliens with extraordinary ability
· P visa for athletes, artists and entertainers
· Q visa for international cultural exchange visitors
· R visa for religious occupations

The application fee for K visas for fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens would be $350. The fee for E visas for treaty-traders and treaty-investors would be $390.

The Department says it will not begin collecting the new proposed fees until it considers public comments and publishes a final rule. See the proposed rule and submit comments here. Or check out The Consular Affairs Bureau has also released a media note on this proposed fee increase including a FAQ here.

Excerpted from the proposed rule published: “Historically, nonimmigrant visa workload has increased year to year at approximately 5%. However, global economic conditions led to a 12.7% drop in demand in Fiscal Year 2009. We anticipate that with global economic recovery, demand will return to its historical pattern of growth after Fiscal Year 2010. With regard to the economic impact as a whole, the more than 92% of nonimmigrant visa applications that are not petition-based are sought by and paid for entirely by foreign national applicants. The revenue increases resulting from those fees should not be considered to have a direct cost impact on the domestic economy.”

Who Runs the War? Nominate Your Own Afghan Power-Broker

President Barack Obama attends a briefing
on Afghanistan in the Situation Room of the White House
Oct. 9, 2009 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) and Foreign Policy invite you to participate in a collaborative contest to define the less visible Obama war counselors by contributing your knowledge to a profile nominated already or by nominating your own Afghan power-broker.

Who Runs the War?
The contest runs from Dec. 8th to Dec. 23rd. The organizers will announce the top three profiles the week of Jan. 4, 2010, as judged by the strength of the cumulative case made by those who wrote them (WRG readers). Everyone who contributed content to a winning profile will receive a prize.

Contest prizes:

  • First Place – Autographed copy of Peter Bergen’s book, “The Osama bin Laden I Know
  • Second Place – A Washington Post wind-breaker or jacket
  • Third Place – Washington Post golf balls or business card-holder

Afghan experts, journalists and bloggers list their picks as to who they think has the most war clout inside the U.S. government.

Currently up with his top five picks is Parag Khanna, the Director of the Global Governance Initiative at the New America Foundation. He is author of the international best-seller The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order and advised U.S. officials in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007. His picks: Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal | Karl Eikenberry | Joseph R. Biden | Richard C. Holbrooke | James L. Jones

Click here to see Peter Bergen and Steve Walt’s picks. Michael Goldfarb, the web editor at the Weekly Standard is also up with his six picks starting with Sarah Palin (R) (?!#).
, is a Washington Post Company site that profiles top policymakers and influencers on the web. A dedicated in-house editorial team seeded the site for the initial launch, but it is now open to the public and expert policymaking community for their contributions.

Insider Quote: A toothpick for a sword fight

A super micro image of a toothpick. Each squar...Image via Wikipedia

“This time around, with everything based on who you know and whether they can exert the right pressure on the right person in a decision-making position, I feel like I’m at a distinct disadvantage. I wasn’t able to get the types of assignments I needed the first two times around, and thus I haven’t had a chance to make the necessary connections within the parts of the organization I’d actually like to work in. You’ve all probably heard the adage about bringing a knife to a gun-fight. Well, this is the Foreign Service, so maybe it’s more like a sword fight (let’s face it, there might be blood, but nobody’s going to get shot and die). And to this sword fight, yours truly has brought a toothpick.

I kind of just want this whole process to be over, though. I’m tired of my stomach being tied in knots, being unable to sleep well, coming up with ridiculous strategies/ideas, lying in bed wide awake wondering whether I should send Person X another email to remind him/her of my existence, etc, etc. Maybe I should just find a rock to crawl under. Wake me when it’s over. I’ll surrender my toothpick if you promise not to maim me.”


Girl in the Rain
Blog of “A Displaced Seattleite Wandering the Globe”