State Department and USIA Ship Travel and Travel Advances

NSIAD-85-130: Published: Sep 11, 1985. Publicly Released: Oct 24, 1985.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined travel practices at the Department of State and the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) to determine whether they were in accordance with applicable laws and regulations and in the government's best interest.

GAO found that about 260 foreign service travelers used ship transportation during fiscal years 1982 through 1984 at a cost of $556,232 when air fares for the same travel would have cost about $160,047. Although the Foreign Affairs Manual encourages air travel, ship travel is authorized. GAO also found that both State and USIA had $13.6 million in outstanding travel advances, and accounts totalling at least $876,662 have been written off during 1984 and 1985. These delinquencies and write-offs have resulted from problems in accounting for, controlling, and monitoring travel advances. Although travelers are required to submit a travel reimbursement voucher and remit a refund within 30 days following travel, GAO found accounts that were outstanding for up to 7 years. In addition, GAO found that: (1) travel account records are of questionable accuracy because data are either missing or have not been entered into the computer system in a timely manner or have been miscoded; (2) although State and USIA have made efforts to correct travel advance accounts, many accounts remain delinquent; and (3) both agencies have insufficient staff to manage the travel work load. Finally, GAO found that: (1) travel claims lacked required justification and documentation; (2) travelers were reimbursed for averaged expenses when they should have been reimbursed for actual expenses; and (3) travelers often submitted late vouchers.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Foreign Service Regulations were changed and instructions were sent to all posts covering all aspects of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State and the Director, USIA, should: (1) revise travel regulations for home leave and transfer travel to require a cost comparison on all transportation costs between the points of origin and destination; and (2) require the traveler to pay the difference between the least costly method, which provides reasonable travel comfort and safety, and any other travel route or mode the traveler chooses. Regulations should preclude ship travel unless required for medical reasons or unless the traveler pays additional costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Regulations were changed in agency operating manuals to incorporate this recommendation. The USIA Operating Manual governs USIA.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State and the Director, USIA, should: (1) revise travel regulations for home leave and transfer travel to require a cost comparison on all transportation costs between the points of origin and destination; and (2) require the traveler to pay the difference between the least costly method, which provides reasonable travel comfort and safety, and any other travel route or mode the traveler chooses. Regulations should preclude ship travel unless required for medical reasons or unless the traveler pays additional costs.

    Agency Affected: United States Information Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State actions are completed. Outside contractors were hired to reconcile the travel advance accounts. An agreement was made with the Department of Agriculture's National Finance Center to process vouchers, thus eliminating backlog. Travel advances are limited to 90 percent of the estimated cost. State is also experimenting with the use of Diner Club cards for hotel expenses.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State and the Director, USIA, should reconcile all delinquent travel advance accounts immediately and take the necessary steps to ensure that travel advances are properly managed in the future.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The following actions were taken: (1) additional staff was added to reconcile vouchers; (2) travel advances were limited to 90 percent of the estimated cost; (3) the use of Diner Club cards for travelers to control travel advance costs; (4) require that vouchers be submitted within 5 working days of trip completion; and (5) all of the actions are a continuing process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State and the Director, USIA, should reconcile all delinquent travel advance accounts immediately and take the necessary steps to ensure that travel advances are properly managed in the future.

    Agency Affected: United States Information Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A cable was sent to all posts reemphasizing the importance of enforcing regulations concerning travel documents.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State and the Director, USIA, should reemphasize to authorizing and certifying officers the importance of enforcing existing regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The USIA overseas administration official was notified by a cable announcement, No. 84-2-7-86.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State and the Director, USIA, should reemphasize to authorizing and certifying officers the importance of enforcing existing regulations.

    Agency Affected: United States Information Agency

 

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