HHS Office for Civil Rights:

Questions Regarding Travel by the Director

HRD-87-84: Published: Jul 2, 1987. Publicly Released: Aug 4, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined the travel and procurement practices of the director of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to determine the reasonableness of the director's extensive travel at government expense when HHS operations were facing major cutbacks.

GAO found that: (1) during fiscal years 1984 through 1986, the director made 83 domestic trips at a total cost of $49,640.94, and 7 international trips at a total cost of $14,159.35; (2) the director generally conformed with HHS regulations regarding blanket travel orders; (3) the director was not required to document the specific purposes of her domestic trips because she traveled under blanket orders and approved her own travel orders; (4) OCR staff could provide documentation for only 29 of the 46 domestic trips to conferences and meetings; (5) there was no independent review of whether the expenses the director claimed for domestic travel were justified or reasonable; and (6) the director did not adhere to HHS international travel requirements for advance approval, planning, and documentation of her seven international trips. GAO noted that it referred the director's authorization of the award of a $1,500 purchase order and possible falsification of travel vouchers to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for further review.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The November 2, 1987 policy statement covers all travel and in effect implements this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should take steps to enforce the existing requirements for international travel, including those on advance approval, planning, and trip reports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HHS has not revised its travel policies to specifically address trips to conferences and meetings taken under blanket travel orders. However, the HHS November 1987 policy memorandum directing officials to minimize the use of blanket travel orders and requiring separate justification for each trip under blanket travel orders will in effect implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: Based on the review of domestic travel, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should require that trips to conferences and meetings by personnel who normally travel under blanket travel orders be authorized on a trip-by-trip basis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 1987, HHS issued a policy memorandum stating that blanket travel orders should be used only on an exception basis and when absolutely essential. The memorandum also required that each trip taken under a blanket travel order must be justified separately.

    Recommendation: Based on the review of domestic travel, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should require documentation on file as to the purposes for trips taken under blanket travel orders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a November 2, 1987, memorandum on travel policy for senior staff officials, HHS rescinded department officials' authority to approve their own travel.

    Recommendation: Based on the review of domestic travel, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should require periodically an independent review of the reasonableness and justification of the trips taken and expenses claimed by officials who authorize and approve their own travel orders and vouchers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In a November 2, 1987, memorandum on travel policy for senior staff officials, HHS rescinded department officials' authority to approve their own travel.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should require periodically an independent review of the reasonableness of the international travel expenses claimed by officials who authorize and approve their own vouchers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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