Watchdog calls for reform of Justice travel policies

The Justice Department should change its travel polices to stop some U.S. attorneys from gaming the system, according to a new report from the department's inspector general.

In a review of travel expenses filed by U.S. attorneys that exceeded government lodging rates, the IG found policy inconsistencies and poor oversight were to a certain degree to blame for recurring abuses among a small percentage of attorneys. The watchdog suggested the Justice management division reform its multilayered approach to travel reimbursement.

The IG office conducted its review between 2007 and 2009 in response to growing concerns that U.S. attorneys were spending excessive amounts on travel arrangements. The assessment found the majority of attorneys did not exceed government lodging rates, but investigators cited five U.S. attorneys who consistently spent more than they were supposed to. The report did not name the attorneys.

The abuses stemmed largely from policies that allowed attorneys to authorize many of their own travel expenses, the IG concluded. In these situations, an attorney and his or her staff would be the only body to review expenses. If an attorney's expenses exceeded government rates on a travel authorization, then the staff simply would increase the preauthorized amount.

Furthermore, attorneys and their staff were not required to document and justify unsuccessful attempts to find lodging that falls within government rates. In one of the cases documented in the report, the secretary of one repeat offender would call four of the most exclusive hotels in Washington, and when none met the government lodging rate, she would deem the rate "unavailable."

In addition, two oversight bodies -- the Executive Office for United States Attorneys and JMD's Fiscal Services Section -- were ineffective at catching transgressions, the IG found. According to the senior adviser for management and operations at EOUSA, the agency does not have written policies on travel review in place. He admitted that, when reviewing, he focused his attention on the purpose of the travel.

FSS never saw most of the travel reimbursements in question because the unit reviewed only authorizations for foreign travel and trips that exceeded $2,500.

In response to the inspector general's review, EOUSA and JMD issued memoranda to reform Justice travel policies. EOUSA's order, released in February, established a travel office dedicated solely to managing the travel authorizations and vouchers of U.S. attorneys. Under the memos, EOUSA also must now approve all out-of-district travel and any in-district travel that exceeds government lodging rates.

In a response to the report, H. Marshall Jarrett, director of EOUSA, said, "Since the commencement of this review, the Executive Office for the United States Attorneys has developed travel policies and procedures that have substantially improved controls over United States attorney travel."

The IG applauded EOUSA's and JMD's reform efforts, but strongly suggested Justice revise its Travel Order and the U.S. Attorneys' Manual so they are consistent with policies in the new memoranda.

The watchdog also recommended Justice issue guidance as to what extent attorneys and their staffs must search before declaring government lodging rates unavailable. And investigators suggested requiring detailed justification in situations when attorneys exceed government rates.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.