Travel Tuesday: When US Government Employees Fly First Overseas

It makes my Spend Management blood boil to read this article in the Washington Times about how some Federal employees have taken it upon themselves to define their own travel policies and stick tax payers with the bill. If true, some of the suggestions in here feel downright criminal. To frame the context of the story, taxpayers "spent $2.8 billion in 2009 just on hotel rooms for federal employees ... When these expenses are combined with airfare, meals and pocket money given to federal employees, the total cost to taxpayers was $13.1 billion." This spend included stays in five-star hotels, among others. But that's not the real issue -- sometimes a five star hotel can be the same price or less than a four star. It all depends on the negotiated rate and availability inventory (for sites like Priceline and Hotwire).

No, the real issue that makes me angry as a taxpayer and spend-focused government watch dog are stories like the following. Consider how, "The Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, frequently sent employees overseas on first- or business-class airplane tickets that cost taxpayers up to $10,000 each." But the SEC can't tell us how many because the agency "does not maintain data on premium travel in a format that allows it to readily identify the population of premium travelers and note patterns and trends that may be indicative of abusive travel" according to an internally published memorandum. This, of course, is absurd -- the data exists. The SEC needs to go to its travel suppliers (i.e., agents) and request it and/or they need to move to a new booking and T&E system like Rearden Commerce.

But wait, the lack of enforceable travel controls and compliance systems in our Federal government gets worse. Consider the flexibility of booking at Environmental protection Agency (EPA): "EPA's IG audited agency travel records and found that midlevel staffers approved one out of five trips even though they lacked explicit authority to do so. Employees faced with supervisors who rejected travel requests could manipulate the electronic system to, in effect, approve their own travel. Because the agency's leadership did not bother to review travel spending, the requests were processed automatically." Hmmm. Let's get this straight. The EPA is not only spending more money but is also increasing its own travel-based carbon footprint because of a lack of travel spend services controls and compliance. Yes, you read that right.

Jason Busch

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