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Highlights

At the request of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, in September 2007 we reported on the governmentwide use of premium class travel. As part of the audit and related investigations, we tested premium class transactions at the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The purpose of this letter is to provide the Acting Secretary of Agriculture with information on specific matters identified during our work that relate to weaknesses in internal controls at USDA. Further, this letter details the results of investigative work we performed related to allegations forwarded to us by USDA's Office of Inspector General of premium class travel abuses by executives at the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). This letter contains six recommendations that warrant your attention.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture To improve the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) ability to detect and prevent improper premium class travel, the Secretary of Agriculture should strengthen existing internal controls over the use of premium class travel by developing and implementing procedures to identify the extent of premium class travel, including business class travel, and to monitor for trends and frequency of premium class travel use, including potential misuse by executives.
Closed - Implemented
In May 2008, USDA began receiving and reviewing monthly premium class travel reports for its eTravel service providers, (including data on both first and business class travel), to monitor premium class travel activity. These premium class travel reports include all executive travel, and review is conducted with an emphasis on travel by executive staff.
Department of Agriculture To improve USDA's ability to detect and prevent improper premium class travel, the Secretary of Agriculture should strengthen existing internal controls over the use of premium class travel by reiterating to USDA components existing USDA policy that premium class travel can only be approved by general officers, unless specifically exempted.
Closed - Implemented
In October 2007, USDA implemented new guidance requiring that all requests for premium class travel be authorized by the CFO, and that premium class travel for the CFO be authorized by the Chief of Staff.
Department of Agriculture To improve USDA's ability to detect and prevent improper premium class travel, the Secretary of Agriculture should strengthen existing internal controls over the use of premium class travel by developing and implementing policies and procedures to specifically prohibit travelers or their subordinates from approving travelers' requests for premium class travel.
Closed - Implemented
In October 2007, USDA implemented new guidance requiring that all requests for premium class travel be authorized by the CFO, and that premium class travel for the CFO be authorized by the Chief of Staff.
Department of Agriculture To improve USDA's ability to detect and prevent improper premium class travel, the Secretary of Agriculture should strengthen existing internal controls over the use of premium class travel by requiring that premium class travel be approved by individuals who are at least of the same rank/grade as the travelers.
Closed - Implemented
In October 2007, USDA implemented new guidance requiring that all requests for premium class travel be authorized by the CFO, and that premium class travel for the CFO be authorized by the Chief of Staff.
Department of Agriculture To improve USDA's ability to detect and prevent improper premium class travel, the Secretary of Agriculture should strengthen existing internal controls over the use of premium class travel by developing and implementing policies and procedures to specifically prohibit the approval of premium class travel if all documentation supporting premium class travel is not provided.
Closed - Implemented
In early FY 2008, USDA provided guidance to authorizing officials and travel management center staff requiring appropriate supporting documentation which must be provided to receive premium class travel approval.
Department of Agriculture To improve USDA's ability to detect and prevent improper premium class travel, the Secretary of Agriculture should strengthen existing internal controls over the use of premium class travel by issuing policies and procedures requiring that USDA and USDA components monitor the frequency and cost of executive premium class travel.
Closed - Implemented
Beginning in May 2008, USDA began receiving and reviewing monthly premium class travel reports for its eTravel service providers, (including data on both first and business class travel), to monitor premium class travel activity. These premium class travel reports include all executive travel. These reports are now to be reviewed, including an emphasis on the review of travel by executive staff.

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