Government Civilian Aircraft:

Central Management Reforms Are Encouraging but Require Extensive Oversight

GGD-89-86: Published: Sep 29, 1989. Publicly Released: Nov 27, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO followed up on earlier reviews of civilian agencies' management of their aircraft, focusing on: (1) Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and General Services Administration (GSA) oversight of civilian agency aircraft ownership and use; and (2) the continuing need for reform of agencies' aircraft management and use practices.

GAO found that: (1) some agencies were still not justifying the cost-effectiveness of government ownership or administrative use of aircraft, as OMB policy required; (2) some usage practices did not appear justified by either cost or special mission requirements; (3) some agencies continued to permit spouses and other nonofficial passengers to accompany top officials aboard government aircraft, which could expose the government to liability; (4) OMB clarified guidance on ownership and use of aircraft and established a leadership, technical assistance, and supporting oversight role for GSA; (5) OMB directed agencies to make special cost analyses to determine whether their aircraft were cost-effective compared to commercially available aircraft; (6) OMB and GSA actions provided a centralized management framework for reforming agencies' aircraft management; and (7) OMB and GSA need to continue their efforts to ensure that agencies comply with their guidance concerning ownership and use of aircraft.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB believes that incompatible statutes make an overall governmentwide policy impractical. OMB's May 22, 1992, revision to Circular A-126 specified new procedures for allowing and approving travel of family members and other nonofficial passengers aboard government aircraft and began requiring reimbursement for such travel equal to the full coach fare of available commercial flights. This change was a step in the right direction, but it did not go far enough.

    Recommendation: The Director, OMB, should establish an executive branch policy on the transportation of spouses and other nonofficial passengers that: (1) specifies when it is in the government's best interest for them to accompany officials aboard government aircraft, which government officials are authorized to take spouses and other nonofficial passengers with them on domestic and overseas trips and under what circumstances, and who pays the costs of that transportation; and (2) limits the government's liability.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: OMB has transferred A-76 to the Management Directorate. OMB's May 22, 1992 revision to Circular A-126 and April 19, 1993 Bulletin 93-11 incorporated most of the A-76 requirements.

    Recommendation: The Director, OMB, should complete the planned transfer of the A-76 function from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to the Management Directorate as soon as possible and consolidate all aircraft ownership, management, and use policies and guidance into Circular A-126.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB still has not issued the guidance agencies need to make the required cost studies or implemented the other aspects of this recommendation. OMB has considered several options but has taken no definitive actions. Consequently, most agencies still have not made the required cost studies to justify their aircraft. Also, recently completed IG work at several federal agencies indicated that some agencies are not effectively using their passenger-carrying aircraft.

    Recommendation: The Director, OMB, should establish a new deadline for completing the special A-76 aircraft justification cost studies and, in the meanwhile, issue the additional executive branch guidance for making such studies that had already been planned for later this year, to ensure that agencies have sufficient criteria and time to do the special studies properly. Agencies should be held accountable for meeting the new deadline, and the budget process should be used as leverage to ensure that the required studies are made and that agencies justify that their aircraft are needed and cost-effective. Once agencies have completed the special A-76 cost studies, OMB should reevaluate the adequacy of the governmentwide guidance and agencies' data for making the studies, as well as the adequacy of the existing management controls in Circular A-126 over the use of government aircraft for routine administrative travel.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB's enforcement efforts in general and use of PCIE, individual IGs, and the budget process in particular have been disappointing. IGs at several agencies have reviewed aircraft management and use practices and found that federal agencies still are not complying with the ownership, management, and administrative use requirements of OMB Circulars A-76 and A-126.

    Recommendation: The Director, OMB, should integrate the executive branch's aircraft oversight and enforcement efforts with the budget process and use the budget, the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE), and individual inspectors general to oversee and enforce agencies' compliance with the aircraft ownership, operation, and administrative use requirements of Circulars A-76 and A-126.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB continues to work with GSA and operating agencies to improve executive branch aircraft management. OMB has actively supported the GSA role, encouraged the formulation and activities of the Interagency Committee for Aviation Policy, revised OMB Circular A-126, and issued Bulletin 93-11 (April 19, 1993) to implement the President's directive of February 10, 1993, that was aimed at making federal aircraft operations more cost-effective and required federal agencies to justify the need for their passenger-carrying aircraft. OMB, however, still has not provided the required central management leadership to change agencies' long-standing aircraft practices.

    Recommendation: The Director, OMB, should sustain efforts begun during the last administration to: (1) provide overall management leadership aimed at getting executive agencies to improve their management and use of aircraft; and (2) rely on GSA to provide technical leadership, assistance to agencies, and supporting oversight of agencies' aircraft operations and ensure that OMB, as well as GSA, devotes the necessary staff to effectively oversee agencies' actual aircraft practices so that the ongoing reform efforts do not dissipate from lack of sustained attention as did those in 1983.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Interagency Committee for Aviation Policy GSA established to advise it on further changes in aircraft policies appears to be working well. GSA has increased staff for its aviation management group and given it divisional organization status. Subsequent work by the GSA IG indicated, however, that problems remain with: (1) the accuracy and reliability of GSA's governmentwide aircraft management information system; (2) federal executive agencies' compliance with OMB Circular A-126 policies and requirements; and (3) GSA's commitment and staffing levels in the aircraft management area. Thus, GSA still has not effectively fulfilled the central management agency role in this area that GAO envisioned.

    Recommendation: The Acting Administrator of General Services should provide the aviation management group the staff and other resources, as well as the top-level management support and organizational placement within GSA, that it needs to effectively fulfill its intended governmentwide leadership, technical assistance, and supporting oversight role in the aircraft area. This role should include: (1) implementing, overseeing, and fine-tuning the guiding aircraft ownership, management, and use policies; and (2) improving the completeness, reliability, and usefulness of the governmentwide aircraft management information system.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

 

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