Senior personnel at intelligence agencies have not reported their use of official government aircraft, a breach of executive branch requirements, according to a new audit.
The General Services Administration should not collect data on use of aircraft in classified missions, the Government Accountability Office found, but should require more reporting from intelligence agencies in general. Tracking the information -- which includes travelers, the official purpose of the trip and the destination -- helps avoid spending “hard-earned tax dollars in ways that may appear to be improper,” according to guidance from the Office of Management and Budget that established the reporting requirement.
The report also found GSA did not clearly state -- and could not even identify -- which agencies were considered exempt from reporting when their senior officials use government aircraft.
When agencies do not report to GSA, they must keep their travel records on file for two years, which allowed GAO to investigate travel at the Justice Department. A previous GAO report identified 395 non-mission flights taken by then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice officials between fiscal years 2009 through 2011 that were not reported to GSA, costing nearly $8 million.
Federal regulations stipulate the AG must use Justice aircraft for all flights, including personal trips, for safety and communication reasons. The FBI Director now faces the same mandate, but the rule did not apply to the position until 2011.
GSA offered no explanation for why it interpreted the reporting requirements in a manner inconsistent with federal statute, GAO said. The auditors recommended GSA either identify “an adequate way for the intelligence agency reporting exemption or removing the exemption from its regulation if an adequate basis cannot be identified.” GAO also instructed GSA to clearly state in its senior officials travel report when it was omitting classified information.
Officials at GSA said they would no longer allow agencies to withhold unclassified travel information, which GAO said would bring the reports up to code.