Government Employees Spent $146M on Flight Upgrades
Senior government employees spent a nominal amount of money upgrading official flights from coach, the GAO has found.
Federal employees wasted at least $146 million over a one-year period on business- and first-class airline tickets, in some cases simply because they felt entitled to the perk, congressional investigators say.
A draft report by the Government Accountability Office, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, is the first to examine compliance with travel rules across the federal government following reports of extensive abuse of premium-class travel by Pentagon and State Department employees. The review of travel spending by more than a dozen agencies from July 1, 2005, to June 30, 2006, found 67 percent of premium-class travel by executives or their employees, worth at least $146 million, was unauthorized or otherwise unjustified. Among the worst offenders: the State Department, whose employees typically fly abroad on official business.
Many of the cases involved high-ranking senior officials or political appointees who claimed exceptions to federal travel rules by citing old medical records or questionable approval from a subordinate employee.
Investigators found that senior officials often flew business- or first-class because they felt entitled to the perk. The higher airfare for traveling in one of the premium classes resulted in expenses often five to 10 times more than what was authorized under government travel rules.
“With the serious fiscal challenges facing the federal government, agencies must maximize their ability to manage and safeguard valuable taxpayers’ dollars,” investigators wrote, suggesting agencies recoup the extra cost from those who abuse travel policies.
Under federal rules, government employees generally must fly coach for both domestic and international travel unless the flight takes 14 hours or longer. A few exceptions apply when the employee receives agency approval based on a medical condition, security concerns, lack of availability of coach seats or when required “because of agency mission.”
Now, certainly, senior employees ought to know the rules and they definitely should obey them. If they’re not entitled to fly comfortably, then they’re not entitled.
Still, while I’m often outraged (or at least mighty annoyed) at fraud, waste, and abuse by the federal government, my main reaction here was more along the lines of: Senior government employees aren’t allowed to fly business class on official business? You’re kidding me?
We’ve trying to attract high caliber people to work for the government, presumably. And, with relatively rare exception (mostly in the DC area), senior folks (which, since it’s not clear from this report, I’ll define as GS-13 and up, the equivalent of field grade officers in the military) are middle aged people for whom being crammed into coach seats for more than about fifteen minutes is going to be uncomfortable. And we expect them to arrive at their destination ready to perform their duties. So, why aren’t we treating them accordingly?
For that matter, why don’t the feds have a way to let its employees accumulate frequent flier points so that they can get free upgrades?
And how much did the government spend on this investigation, anyway?