OMB sets guidelines for first-, business-class travel

Following a stinging Government Accountability Office report that detailed agencies’ wasteful spending of at least $146 million for first- or business-class airline tickets, the Office of Management and Budget laid out six internal controls Jan. 8 to improve oversight of these decisions.

Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management, said in a memo to agency heads that they must implement these new controls by March 31 and develop a risk-based review, reporting and audit framework for determining when first- or business-class airline tickets are necessary.

“Agency personnel also have a responsibility to ensure that other conditions surrounding the request for and use of premium-class accommodations are reasonable and necessary given the circumstances of travel and/or the cost of the travel,” Johnson said in the memo.

GAO found in September 2007 that agencies spent more than $230 million on about 53,000 premium-class tickets from July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2006. Based on statistical sampling, GAO estimated that 67 percent of premium-class travel was not properly authorized, justified or both.

Auditors recommended that OMB and the General Services Administration take several steps, including improving internal controls for first- and business-class travel and establishing procedures to monitor these expenses.

OMB’s memo is partly in response to these recommendations.

GSA also is revising the Federal Travel Regulations based on GAO’s findings and developing guidance to report business-class travel.

OMB’s improved internal controls call for agencies to:


  • Require all premium-class travel to be approved by an official at least at the same level as the traveler.

  • Issue internal guidance that explains when mission criteria and intent call for premium-class accommodations.

  • Prohibit blanket premium-class travel authorization unless the traveler has a certification of disability.


Johnson also told agencies that if they believe their existing internal controls are adequate, they should submit their claims in writing before the March deadline.


"The Office of Management and Budget's efforts to implement the recommendations from our investigation with the GAO regarding premium class travel is a welcome change and good news for the taxpayer," said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). "Federal travel has gone unchecked for too long and I expect these new policies to help reign in some of the lavish lifestyles government officials have come to enjoy on the taxpayer dime."

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