The Energy Department should strengthen monitoring of its contractors’ foreign travel, which in the past six years has cost more than $300 million for 90,000 trips, according to a recent management alert the department’s inspector general issued.
IG Gregory Friedman noted about 85 percent of Energy’s travel costs were incurred by contractors on projects such as inspecting nuclear weapons and visiting Japan in the aftermath of the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear power disaster.
A review of Energy’s central foreign travel database found that “it was not being fully utilized to identify overall trends in foreign travel, potential wasteful practices, and possible strategies to reduce the department's international travel expenditures,” auditors said.
The IG noted President Obama in November 2011 issued an executive order mandating curbs on travel expenditures, which was followed by guidance from the Office of Management and Budget requiring a 30 percent reduction in travel.
While Energy made progress toward that 30 percent cut for staff, auditors said, “parallel action had not been taken to manage or control foreign travel by contractors.” Applying new economies to the contractor workforce of 100,000 could save $15 million annually, the report said.
“We are not in a position to assert that these trips were unnecessary, or that travel costs or the numbers of department-sponsored attendees were unreasonable,” the auditors said. “We do believe, however, that as part of the governmentwide effort to reduce spending, department managers need to focus on not only whether international travel is justified on a mission basis and whether the number and frequency of trips is appropriate, but of greatest importance, whether they are affordable in light of budget realities.”
The IG recommended a new strategy for reducing travel. Managers agreed after reviewing a draft of the report.