Today, U.S. Senators Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) made the following statement after the Senate voted unanimously, 90-0, to pass their amendment to stop widespread travel abuse by employees of federal agencies. A recent study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that at least $146 million in taxpayer dollars were wasted through improper use of premium class air travel from July 2005 to June 2006.
"When federal employees travel first class, they treat taxpayers like second class citizens," said Senator DeMint. "This is a blatant abuse of taxpayer dollars. Many Americans save for months to purchase coach tickets, yet some government employees seem to have no problem spending someone else's so they can enjoy free drinks and recliners. Tax-dollars should be spent wisely or not spent at all, and this type of waste is exactly why Americans are fed up with a federal bureaucracy that has grown too large to police itself."
"So many people in Washington treat tax dollars like Monopoly money, spending it like it's not real" said Senator McCaskill. "Spending tax payer money on first class airline tickets is the kind of unnecessary extravagance that has no place in government. Taxpayers foot the bill for this government and we ought to be mindful of that."
Due to the high cost of premium class air travel, the General Services Administration's (GSA) Federal Travel Regulations (FTR) include specific guidelines that restrict such travel to save taxpayer dollars. Employees are only able to fly first class or business class for specific reasons, such as when an individual has a physical disability that is certified by a medical professional.
As stated in the GAO Report, released in September: "A weak control environment and breakdowns in specific internal control procedures resulted in at least $146 million in improper first and business class travel by executive branch agencies over the 12-month period ending June 30, 2006. Specifically, of the $230 million the federal government spent on over 53,000 premium class airline tickets (including at least one leg of premium class travel) from July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2006, 67 percent were either not properly authorized, not properly justified , or both."
The DeMint-McCaskill amendment would prohibit any funds made available in the Fiscal Year 2008 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill from being used for travel by employees at federal agencies that does not comply with the existing federal regulations. This would make the abuse of air travel illegal and force federal agencies to pay closer attention to the travel guidelines and help put an end to abusive travel by federal employees.
Examples of abuse listed in the GAO report:
- A USDA employee spent $163,000 on premium class travel. He had a subordinate authorize 25 premium class flights (essentially self authorizing) and the employee used "mission critical" justification to justify 10 of the 25 flights lasting less than 14 hours to Western Europe.
- The State Department improperly spent $46,000 to fly a family of 8 to Europe. A comparable coach class fare was $12,000.
- The Postal Service spent $2,200 to fly a board member first class from DC to LA. A comparable coach fare was $400.
- A USDA executive traveled from Washington, D.C., to Hong Kong and back in business class, a ticket that cost the government over $6,900. In contrast, 11 other USDA employees did not travel in premium class, even though they were qualified to do so under the 14-hour rule. Instead, the 11 employees traveled on the same plane in coach at the cost of less than $1,400 per ticket.