Review of White House and Executive Agency Expenditures for Selected Travel, Entertainment, and Personnel Costs

AFMD-81-38: Published: Mar 6, 1981. Publicly Released: Apr 8, 1981.

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GAO was asked to review selected expenditures of the White House and various Federal agencies to determine if appropriated funds were used before the 1980 elections to advance the political candidacy of the incumbent president. Information was requested on employees temporarily detailed to the White House from other agencies. The most significant question raised was whether travel, speechmaking, and public appearances by senior-level officials, including the President and the Vice President, and other personnel actions which may take place during a Presidential campaign and directly or indirectly benefit the campaign, constitute an improper use of appropriated funds. In the absence of legislative criteria, the White House developed guidelines for administration officials to follow during the course of the campaign. The guidelines' objective was not only to prevent the use of appropriated funds for political purposes during the campaign, but to avoid any question that such funds were improperly used. The primary GAO review objectives were to determine what controls the White House and selected agencies had developed to prevent the use of appropriations for political purposes, and whether the controls and related procedures had been followed.

The White House issued guidelines in April 1979 and in February, August, and September 1980. They dealt primarily with travel and related expenses of cabinet members and other agency officials not subject to legislative prohibition of political management and campaigning. The guidelines cautioned the agencies not to use appropriated funds or other Government resources for political purposes, and formulas were provided for allocating the cost of trips combining both official and political activities between appropriated and campaign funds. The August 1980 guidelines placed greater restrictions on administration officials and provided some criteria for distinguishing between official and political activities. Others stated that Cabinet officers were ultimately responsible for determining, on a case-by-case basis, whether their appearances were official in nature. The five agencies visited generally complied with the guidelines with varying types of procedures being developed for that purpose. In two cases, the Carter-Mondale Reelection Committee agreed with an agency that its Secretary's appearances were official in nature but offered reimbursement to avoid any misunderstandings. More than 300 individuals from 56 different governmental units were detailed to the White House in fiscal 1980. However, there was no assurance that the records reviewed were complete. According to an official, most of the detailees served in secretarial or clerical jobs.

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