HHS misses lower prices for flights

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The IG's report

Some employees of the Health and Human Services Department didn’t know how to get government discounts on airfare and as a result spent nearly $530,000 more than necessary to fly in fiscal 2006, according to a new report.

Employees in HHS’ Office of the Secretary bought airline tickets and got the largest discount on only 721, or 16 percent, of their 4,397 purchases where both a standard and discounted fare were available, according to a report released Sept. 2 by the department’s inspector general’s office.


HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson calculated that the department would have saved $181,151, if its employees had chosen the discounted fares just half of the time, like other federal employees. Officials say federal employees choose the governmentwide discounted fares for an average of 50 percent of the domestic trips when both fares were available.


The airfare discounts come through the General Services Administration's City Pair program, a governmentwide program for federal employees. It offers a standard fare, or GSA City Pair, and a discounted rate, or GSA City Pair with Capacity Limits. The purchases are made through the GovTrip Web site.

Levinson wrote that many of HHS' employees were unaware of the lower-priced fares. The auditors conducted a survey of 62 employees working in the secretary’s office and learned that they didn’t understand the options or know how to identify the discounts on the purchasing Web site.

For example, the employees were asked on the survey, “How did you learn that GSA City Pair is the standard fare and that GSA City Pair w/ Capacity Limits is the lower cost fare?” Fifty-five percent of employees said they learned it “by taking this survey.”

According to the IG’s survey, 54 percent of the employees said they didn’t search for discounted fares.

Levinson recommended that HHS officials teach employees about finding discounts on the GovTrip Web site. He also recommended that HHS work with GSA officials to clarify the Web site's display so buyers can easily find and select the cheaper price. HHS officials agreed with the recommendations.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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