GSA spent $7.7 million on four years of virtual employee travel

Telework program aimed to save money by reducing office space.

The General Services Administration spent $7.7 million during the past four years to transport its long-distance telecommuters to meetings and conferences, new documents reveal.

Reports first obtained by CNN and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee show that 60 percent of the 379 workers in GSA’s virtual employee program traveled to conferences and meetings, mostly on cross-country flights. GSA is reviewing the program after CNN reported in August that an employee who worked for a regional office in Kansas City, Mo., while living in Honolulu, racked up $24,000 in travel expenses on the government’s dime. The agency spent millions more on virtual employees during the past three years, CNN said.

According to recent GSA records, which CNN obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, the employee who traveled most often, a construction project manager from Kansas, went to New York 58 times in 2011 and 2012 at a cost of more than $99,000; that employee is no longer with GSA. Another employee living in Miami and based out of Washington racked up $143,881 in travel costs within four years, CNN reported. As with other telework initiatives, GSA’s virtual employee program was initially an attempt to rein in costs by freeing up office space.

The new findings represent another wrinkle in the intense scrutiny on the agency’s problematic conference and travel spending, which began after reports surfaced earlier this year that revealed GSA spent more than $820,000 on a Las Vegas conference in 2010.

At the urging of Congress, the agency has stepped up its efforts to curb travel spending. GSA has since reined in its travel and conferences expenses and expects to save more than $11 million from April through September by canceling conferences and freezing travel reimbursement rates.

Responding to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., GSA disclosed in June that 95 virtual employees, including a dozen in supervisory positions, billed the agency for $750,000 between October 2010 and June 2011.

GSA has pledged to continue to look at their virtual employment policies. A spokeswoman told Government Executive last week that the agency is implementing “stringent controls to drastically curb spending on travel, conferences and events for all employees, including those who work from home full time.”

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