A plane takes off from the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif.

A plane takes off from the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif. Philip Pilosian/AP

Former EPA Official Charged Uncle Sam $69K for Weekend Trips Home

Agency inspector general called travel between Northern and Southern California “excessive.”

Update: The EPA on Oct. 1 sent a revised statement on the IG report concerning Mr. Nastri’s travel data to say that the “agency has not drawn any independent conclusions as to whether there were any improperly reimbursed amounts at this time.” Previously, EPA told Government Executive that “EPA concurs with the conclusions reached in the OIG report and is working with Mr. Nastri on a voluntary repayment schedule to recover $3,823. Additionally, EPA is examining Mr. Nastri’s travel records for previous years to determine if there are other ineligible travel expenses, in accordance with the federal Debt Collection Act, which allows agencies to seek repayment where fraud is not alleged.” The story has been updated to include the agency’s revised statement.

A former top Environmental Protection Agency official based in San Francisco charged the government $69,000 for weekend travel home to Southern California over a three-year period, according to a new inspector general report.

The watchdog analyzed the travel data of Wayne Nastri, who was EPA’s Region 9 administrator from October 2001 to January 2009, and concluded some of Nastri’s travel between 2006 and 2009 was “excessive.” The report also found that Nastri bilked the government for nearly $4,000 in ineligible travel expenses, including extra meals, lodging costs on personal days, and unauthorized mileage reimbursement for his private vehicle.

EPA’s Region 9, headquartered in San Francisco, covers the Pacific Southwest. Nastri, who was not named in the report, maintained a home in Aliso Viejo, in the Orange County/Los Angeles County area, about 11 miles from the John Wayne Airport and 55 miles from the EPA’s Los Angeles field office. The agency opened the L.A. field office when Nastri was head of Region 9. According to the IG, Nastri flew home nearly every weekend to Southern California during the three-year time frame.

Nastri made 88 trips on the government dime (totaling about $132,000) from October 2006 through January 2009; for 51 of those trips, he traveled to the OC/LA area at a cost of $69,000.

“When in OC/LA, the former Region 9 administrator stayed at his residence, and claimed meals and incidental expenses, as well as mileage for his privately owned vehicle to commute to the Los Angeles field office and/or wherever necessary,” the report stated.

The IG compared Nastri’s travel to OC/LA, which was approved by agency officials at the time, to similar trips his successors took on the government dime. “Our analysis disclosed that the former Region 9 administrator’s replacements made only seven trips to OC/LA between 2009 and 2011, calling into question whether the travel of the former Region 9 administrator was essential to performance of the agency mission,” the report concluded. Those seven trips costs roughly $5,700, according to the findings.

EPA told the IG that it would try to recoup any ineligible expenses from Nastri by April 2016.

“As a result of their review, the OIG recommended that the agency ‘determine the amount of any ineligible travel expenses to the Los Angeles area, share details, and take appropriate action to obtain repayment from the former Region 9 administrator,’ the EPA said in a revised statement sent to Government Executive on Oct. 1. “In response to that recommendation, the agency agreed it would take reasonable and appropriate action to review the information available and, should the agency conclude that amounts were reimbursed improperly, the agency would seek to recover those amounts through its established debt collection process. The agency has not drawn any independent conclusions as to whether there were any improperly reimbursed amounts at this time."

Through a spokesman, Nastri told the Washington Examiner in a Sept. 23 new report that IG investigators did not contact him before the report’s publication and that he had “not been provided any of the documents on which the allegations are allegedly based.” The IG report in its methodology section said investigators interviewed Nastri and other Region 9 staff for the audit.

The watchdog also did a random sampling of the agency’s travel reporting system and policies, finding a lack of documentation for lodging above the per diem rate, and other problems. “We noted a lack of trip reports for international travel, vouchers not being submitted within the required timeframe, and travel card refresher training requirements not being in compliance” with federal policy on government charge cards, the report stated.

The IG also criticized the agency for missing information related to employees’ use of premium-class travel – travel outside of coach class. “Our examination of the information reported by the EPA disclosed that 26 premium-class travel transactions, with a total cost of $79,408, were not reported to [the General Services Administration] in fiscal years 2011 and 2012,” the report said.

EPA pointed out in its response that agency policy, not the Federal Travel Regulation, “incorporated these [international] reports as a best management practice to ensure information sharing, as well as a travel internal control.” EPA policy also directs employees to submit travel documentation within five working days after return travel, but the FTR allows frequent travelers to submit all vouchers once a month, the agency said.

As for premium-class travel data, “any discrepancy in the information would be trips that GSA does not deem reportable,” the agency said in its response to the IG. “There are several reasons that trip [sic] would not be reported to GSA on the premium class travel report. For instance, GSA does not allow the agency to report a trip where the premium class ticket resulted in a fare that was lower than the coach fare.”

Still, EPA agreed in general to tighten controls, update guidance, and ensure employees receive current training on travel policy and documentation.

“EPA has instituted and is implementing controls to prevent similar travel-related discrepancies in the future,” the agency said in a statement.

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