Watchdog: Follow the Money

Even some volunteers are ripping off agency, Interior IG finds

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Watchdog,Watchdog Blog,Michal Conger,Interior,Inspectors General,Follow the Money

Supervisors at the U.S. Geological Survey conduct such lax reviews of the agency's travel cards program that employees and even volunteers are overpaid by thousands of dollars, according to a report by the Interior Department's internal watchdog.

USGS limited the DOI inspector general's review of travel documents, blocking the watchdog's access to 50 of the files in GovTrip, DOI's expense-tracking system. The agency also locked one traveler's account so that the IG couldn't review it. As a result, the IG was only able to look at half the documents it sought to review.

Many of the vouchers the IG was able to access had problems with missing receipts and charges for expenses that weren't allowed.

One volunteer charged $2,300 for travel and hotel, pretending to have taken a flight to a project site 1,000 miles away when he actually took a personal vehicle. The volunteer wrote in the mileage expense as a flight, even including a travel management fee for the fake flight. He also claimed mileage for a trip to and from the airport as if he had taken a flight, but claimed three times the actual distance.

The official who signed off on the expense report admitted in the voucher itself that she hadn't actually reviewed it, but the approving official made no comments or changes.

"The problems identified in the voucher indicate that neither supervisor performed even the most basic duties assigned to them as travel management officials," the IG said in the report.

Another volunteer was receiving per-diem allowances monthly for five months for traveling about 45 minutes away from her home. Her travel authorization was "suspect," according to the IG, given that it lacked a project identification and used a fake number as the volunteer's contact information.

A manager filed a mistake-ridden travel voucher "with so many errors that we were surprised a high-level bureau ethics official approved the voucher with no modifications," the IG report said. The voucher overstated the manager's expenses by at least $1,100 and the manager himself was overpaid by $550.

USGS employees also use GovTrip's auto-approval feature to approve their own travel plans, according to the report. Thirty-seven of the 49 travel vouchers reviewed used the feature for routine travel.

Thousands of other DOI employees also use the feature, according to a recent review by the Washington Examiner. Many of the Bureau of Land Management's 11,000 employees and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement's 500 employees are authorized to auto-approve, allowing them to circumvent supervisor approval for airline tickets, rental cars, upgrades and hotels.

The IG also reviewed a sample of 50 charge-card statements, the only documents supervisors are required to review to check the validity of travel expenses. Twenty percent of the statements showed some discrepancy, including missing signatures, statements that didn't match the expenses reported, and travel without authorization.

The IG recommended USGS require that supervisors review authorizations and verify charges on travel card statements. USGS claimed DOI gave it a waiver for supervisory review and signatures because its charge card program already had internal controls, but the IG said the waiver was for program USGS no longer uses and current controls are deficient.

USGS also said it would limit auto-approval by October, one month before it switches to a new travel expense tracking system.

Go here for the full report.

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