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?