OMB sets guidelines for fed high fliers

The Office of Management and Budget has laid down the law on posh executive travel.

After a Government Accountability Office report that detailed agencies’ wasteful spending of at least $146 million for first- or business-class airline tickets, OMB has established additional internal controls to improve oversight of those decisions.

Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management, instructed agency leaders in a Jan. 8 memo to implement the 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 wrote.

GAO reported in 2007 that agencies spent more than $230 million for 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 those expenses.

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

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

OMB’s improved internal controls call for agencies to require approval of all premium-class travel by an official who is at least at the same level as the traveler, issue internal guidance that explains when mission criteria and intent call for premium-class accommodations, and prohibit blanket premium-class travel authorization unless the traveler has a certification of disability.

Johnson told agencies that if they believe their existing internal controls are adequate, they should submit that claim 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 rein in some of the lavish lifestyles government officials have come to enjoy on the taxpayer dime,” Grassley added.
Greg Kutz, GAO’s managing director of forensic audits and special investigations and author of the report on travel, said the new guidance is comprehensive.

“For the most part, OMB’s memo addresses the key issues we made in our report and the recommendations we made for OMB and some for GSA,” he said. “I’m encouraged by their actions.” 

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