oversight

The National Park Service: Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-02-13.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                United States General Accounting Office

GAO             Report to the Subcommittee on Interior
                and Related Agencies, Committee on
                Appropriations, House of
                Representatives

February 2003
                NATIONAL PARK
                SERVICE
                Actions Needed to
                Improve Travel Cost
                Management




GAO-03-354
                a
                                               February 2003


                                               NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
                                               Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost
Highlights of GAO-03-354, a report to the
Subcommittee on Interior and Related
                                               Management
Agencies, Committee on Appropriations,
House of Representatives




Unable to obtain information on                The Park Service reported that it incurred from $39 million to $50 million, in
the National Park Service’s (Park              inflation-adjusted dollars annually, on travel costs during the past 4 fiscal
Service) travel costs to ensure that           years, but it does not know its actual costs for foreign travel or the travel costs
the agency is spending                         related to attending conferences because its does not routinely record this
appropriated funds effectively and             required information.
efficiently, the Subcommittee
asked GAO to assess the
availability of travel cost                    The Federal Travel Regulation requires that agency travel accounting systems
information and provide certain                capture certain data, including travel type, such as foreign or domestic travel,
travel cost information, such as the           and purpose, such as training or conference attendance. In addition, the Park
cost of foreign travel and for                 Service requires that all vouchers for foreign travel be processed at its
attending conferences, for the Park            Accounting Operations Center, but this policy is not consistently followed.
Service for each of the past 4 fiscal          The current procedures for processing travel vouchers and recording travel
years.                                         costs make it difficult for the Park Service to report reliable travel data that
                                               are consistent with the Federal Travel Regulation. Officials at the Park
                                               Service told us that they are implementing a new travel management system
                                               that will track travel type and purpose. The system is expected to be operating
                                               throughout the agency by approximately September 2003.
GAO recommends that the National
Park Service implement the
following procedures:                          Reliable, detailed travel information that is consistent with the Federal Travel
                                               Regulation is critical so that the Park Service and the Congress can perform
  •    Establish procedures for                their respective roles and responsibilities with regard to efficient travel cost
       capturing travel data,                  management.
       including travel type and
       purpose as required by the              Park Service Reported Total Travel Costs, Fiscal Years 1999-2002, Actual and Adjusted for
       Federal Travel Regulation.              Inflation to 2001 Dollars
  •    Enforce existing policy that
       requires all foreign travel
       vouchers to be processed
       electronically by the
       Accounting Operations
       Center.
  •    Address federal travel system
       requirements when designing
       and implementing the travel
       system scheduled for
       completion later this year as
       well as any future travel
       systems.

DOI officials concurred with our
recommendations and noted steps
underway to manage travel costs.
www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-354.

To view the full report, including the scope   Note: This figure represents GAO’s analysis of data provided by the National Park Service.
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact McCoy
Williams on (202) 512-6906 or
williamsm@gao.gov.
Contents



Letter                                                                                                      1
                             Results in Brief                                                               2
                             Background                                                                     4
                             Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                             4
                             The Park Service Cannot Determine Its Foreign Travel Costs or Its
                               Travel Costs for Attending Conferences                                       6
                             Total Reported Travel Costs Have Increased Annually                            9
                             Alternative Data Indicate That Foreign Travel Has Increased
                               Annually                                                                    11
                             Foreign Travel Authorization Procedures Include Multiple Levels of
                               Approval                                                                    12
                             Conclusions                                                                   13
                             Recommendations for Executive Action                                          14
                             Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                            14


Appendixes
              Appendix I:    National Park Service’s Authorized Foreign Trips and
                             Estimated Travel Costs                                                        16
             Appendix II:    Comments from the Department of the Interior                                  17
             Appendix III:   GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments                                         20


Tables                       Table 1: Total Travel Costs by Region, Fiscal Years 1999-2002                 11
                             Table 2: Estimated Foreign Travel Costs, for Each Region, the
                                      Washington, D.C., Office, and Parks Aggregated, Fiscal
                                      Years 1999-2002                                                      16


Figure                       Figure 1: Park Service Reported Total Travel Costs, Fiscal Years
                                       1999-2002, Actual and Adjusted for Inflation to 2001
                                       Dollars                                                             10




                             Page i                GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
Contents




Abbreviations

AOC          Accounting Operations Center
DOI          Department of the Interior
GSA          General Services Administration
JFMIP        Joint Financial Management Improvement Program
OIA          Office of International Affairs


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Page ii                   GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
A
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, D.C. 20548



                                    February 13, 2003                                                               Leter




                                    The Honorable Charles H. Taylor
                                    Chairman
                                    The Honorable Norman D. Dicks
                                    Ranking Minority Member
                                    Subcommittee on Interior and
                                     Related Agencies
                                    Committee on Appropriations
                                    House of Representatives

                                    Unable to obtain information on the National Park Service’s (Park Service)
                                    travel costs, the Subcommittee asked in its June 3, 2002, letter and
                                    subsequent discussions that we review several issues pertaining to the Park
                                    Service’s travel costs. As principal steward over 385 areas covering 84
                                    million acres of land, the Park Service receives approximately 25 percent of
                                    the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) annual appropriations. In fiscal year
                                    2001, the net cost of Park Service operations was over $2 billion, and
                                    included travel and transportation costs of almost $47 million.

                                    To assess the availability of the Park Service’s travel expense information,
                                    the Subcommittee asked us to determine (1) whether the Park Service
                                    could provide its travel cost by type (such as foreign or domestic) and
                                    purpose (such as conference attendance or training) for fiscal years 1999,
                                    2000, 2001, and 2002, and if not, what factors contribute to the Park
                                    Service’s inability to provide the information, (2) the annual total travel
                                    costs for those years, and (3) how many foreign trips were authorized for
                                    those 4 fiscal years and at what estimated cost. Further, we were to
                                    describe the Park Service’s authorization process for foreign travel.




                                    Page 1                GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
Results in Brief   The Park Service does not know its actual costs for foreign travel or the
                   travel costs related to attending conferences because it does not routinely
                   record this required information. Information generated from the Park
                   Service’s travel accounting system is not consistent with the Federal Travel
                   Regulation,1 which requires agencies to track the type (such as foreign or
                   domestic) and purpose (such as conference attendance) of official
                   government travel.2 In addition, while the Park Service requires all
                   vouchers for foreign travel to be processed at its Accounting Operations
                   Center (AOC), this policy is not consistently followed. Although
                   enforcement of this policy would not automatically yield summary
                   information on foreign travel costs under the existing travel accounting
                   system, it could facilitate the enhancements necessary for tracking and
                   monitoring Park Service foreign travel costs. The current procedures for
                   processing travel vouchers and recording travel expenditures include a
                   combination of both centralized and decentralized methods. One result of
                   this is that the Park Service records certain foreign travel costs as domestic
                   travel costs. Therefore, it is difficult for the Park Service to report reliable
                   travel data that are consistent with the Federal Travel Regulation.

                   Reliable detailed travel information that is consistent with the Federal
                   Travel Regulation is critical so that the Park Service, the Congress, and the
                   General Services Administration (GSA)3 can perform their respective roles
                   and responsibilities with regards to efficient travel cost management. The
                   Park Service is in the process of implementing a new travel management
                   system that is designed to generate travel information in accordance with
                   the Federal Travel Regulation and will eventually be able to provide
                   reliable detailed travel information on foreign travel costs and costs for
                   attending conferences. This system is expected to be operational
                   throughout the Park Service by approximately September 2003.

                   After adjusting for inflation, total reported Park Service travel costs for the
                   past 3 years have increased by an average of about 9 percent annually from


                   1
                    Title 41 C.F.R. 300-304. The Federal Travel Regulation is issued by the General Services
                   Administration, in part, to provide guidance to agencies on the authorization of travel
                   reimbursement for certain federal government civilian employees when traveling on official
                   government business.
                   2
                   41 C.F.R. 301-71.2 and appendix C to Chapter 301 identify required data elements.
                   3
                    GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy is responsible for the Federal Travel Regulation,
                   which provides travel policy for federal government agencies and their travelers.




                   Page 2                    GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
approximately $39 million in fiscal year 1999, to approximately $50 million
in fiscal year 2002. The Park Service was able to provide overall travel costs
broken down by its seven regions, the Washington, D.C., office, and its
other reporting units for fiscal years 1999 through 2002. Travel costs for the
Washington, D.C., office rose by approximately 60 percent, increasing from
$5.6 million to over $9 million. Combined travel costs for the seven regional
offices increased approximately 26 percent, from almost $31 million to
almost $39 million. The three remaining units, which include the service
centers and the Job Corps Program, decreased slightly, going from almost
$2.5 million to almost $2.4 million.

Given the Park Service’s failure to record and thus inability to confidently
report foreign trips and the related costs, the Park Service’s Office of
International Affairs (OIA) provided us estimated trip and cost data. Based
on the authorization documents that it receives approximately 6 weeks
prior to travel dates, OIA estimated a steadily increasing number of trips
from 355 in 1999 to 470 in 2002. It acknowledged that some foreign trips
may not have actually occurred, and that cost data could be suspect for this
reason as well as because trips may have been extended or shortened since
approval. The Park Service’s foreign travel approval process largely entails
various levels of supervisor and agency approval and ends with the
Department of State and appropriate U.S. embassy concurrences.

This report makes recommendations for the Park Service to (1) establish
procedures for capturing travel data, including travel type and purpose as
required by the Federal Travel Regulation, (2) enforce the existing Park
Service foreign travel policy that requires all foreign travel vouchers to be
processed electronically by AOC, and (3) address Joint Financial
Management Improvement Program (JFMIP)4 Travel System
Requirements when designing and implementing the travel system
scheduled for completion later this year as well as any future travel
systems.



4
 JFMIP is a joint cooperative undertaking of the Office of Management and Budget, the
General Accounting Office, the Department of the Treasury, and the Office of Personnel
Management, working in cooperation with each other and with operating agencies to
improve financial management practices throughout the government. JFMIP issued
Financial Management Systems Requirements that describe the requirements of the
Federal Financial Management Improvement Act of 1996. See Joint Financial Management
Improvement Program, Travel System Requirements, JFMIP-SR-99-9 (Washington, D.C.:
July 1999).




Page 3                    GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
                         In written comments on a draft of this report, DOI concurred with our
                         conclusions and recommendations and described actions underway to
                         address our recommendations as well as efforts being taken to reduce
                         travel costs for the current fiscal year. While agreeing with our
                         recommendations, DOI stated that it took exception to certain statements
                         in our report. We address DOI’s concerns by referring to the relevant points
                         made in our report and reaffirming our position in the “Agency Comments
                         and Our Evaluation” section.



Background               The National Park System of the United States comprises 385 areas
                         covering around 84 million acres in 49 states, the District of Columbia,
                         American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.
                         Besides running the National Park System, the Park Service fills many
                         other roles to augment the conservation and the preservation of natural
                         resources.

                         In its mission, the Park Service recognizes its responsibility for managing a
                         great variety of national and international programs designed to help
                         extend the benefits of natural and cultural resources conservation and
                         outdoor recreation throughout the nation and the world. Implementation of
                         its domestic and global missions and leadership roles presents
                         opportunities for recurrent travel.

                         OIA provides the overall framework for the Park Service’s international
                         programs and coordinates its participation in international activities in
                         fulfillment of global obligations and domestic legislative requirements. OIA
                         also has responsibility to ensure that Park Service employees comply with
                         the Federal Travel Regulation and DOI foreign travel regulations as well as
                         Park Service regulations when traveling outside the United States on
                         official government business. AOC, the Park Service’s consolidated
                         administrative accounting and payment office, produces the Park Service’s
                         travel policies based on the Federal Travel Regulation and DOI travel
                         regulations. DOI has adopted the Federal Travel Regulation and its
                         supplements and amendments as its basic travel and transportation policy
                         for all its bureaus and offices, including the Park Service.



Objectives, Scope, and   We were asked to determine (1) whether the Park Service could provide its
                         travel cost by type (such as foreign or domestic) and purpose (such as
Methodology              conference attendance or training) for fiscal years 1999, 2000, 2001, and



                         Page 4                 GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
2002, and if not, what factors contribute to the Park Service’s inability to
provide the information, (2) the annual total travel costs for those years,
and (3) how many foreign trips were authorized for those 4 fiscal years and
at what estimated cost. We were also asked to describe the authorization
procedures required for foreign travel.

In order to fulfill the first objective, we asked the Park Service to provide
travel cost data from its travel accounting system for fiscal years 1999
through 2002. We requested the data for each of the Park Service’s
established regions. We identified the requirements for tracking and
recording detailed travel data by reviewing the Federal Travel Regulation;
JFMIP’s Travel System Requirements; and DOI’s and the Park Service’s
travel regulations, policies, and procedures. We identified the causes
leading to the Park Service’s inability to provide reliable detailed travel
information that is consistent with the Federal Travel Regulation by
interviewing Park Service officials and staff members, as well as certain
DOI staff members. We visited the Park Service AOC and observed as travel
vouchers were processed through the travel accounting system to gain an
understanding of how travel cost data are processed and to ascertain the
capabilities of the system. In addition, we interviewed an official at GSA
responsible for gathering detailed travel information from certain agencies
biennially and reviewed the travel information for fiscal year 2000
submitted to GSA by the Park Service to confirm the assertions that the
Park Service used estimated, not actual, data in fulfilling the reporting
requirement to GSA.

For objective two, we used the data given to us by the Park Service and
adjusted for inflation. We reviewed the Park Service’s financial statement
audit for fiscal years 2000 and 2001 to determine if any identified material
internal control weaknesses or reportable conditions could affect the
reliability of the Park Service’s travel data. We compared the total reported
travel costs with the Park Service’s reported outlays in each of the fiscal
years and interviewed Park Service officials about the accuracy of the data.
We compiled subtotals for the regional offices, as well as for the service
centers and the Job Corps Program combined, and reconciled those
subtotals with travel cost totals by fiscal year. We adjusted all dollar values
for general inflation, using the Gross Domestic Product price index for all
items with fiscal year 2001 as the base year.

Because the Park Service could not provide the actual cost of foreign
travel, in order to fulfill the third objective, we asked the Park Service’s OIA
to provide the number of authorized foreign trips, and the cost estimates



Page 5                 GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
                          for related travel, which were both based on preauthorized amounts
                          submitted to OIA on Foreign Travel Certification Forms (DI-1175). With
                          certain limitations as discussed in the report, these data would be the best
                          available to provide some indication of the level of foreign travel. We
                          adjusted all dollar values for general inflation, using the Gross Domestic
                          Product price index for all items with fiscal year 2001 as the base year.

                          To describe the Park Service’s foreign travel authorization process, we
                          obtained and reviewed applicable policy and procedures and other
                          guidance on the foreign travel authorization process. This included the
                          Federal Travel Regulation, the Park Service International Travel Policies
                          and Procedures, and the Park Service Temporary Duty Travel Policies.
                          Further, we discussed the applicable policies, procedures, and practices
                          with appropriate Park Service officials, including headquarters officials in
                          the Park Service OIA, AOC, and the offices of Parks Facility Management
                          and Cultural Resource Stewardship and Partnerships.

                          We did not review all aspects of the Park Service’s internal controls or its
                          travel accounting system. Also, we did not independently verify or test the
                          reliability of the data we obtained and used in our analysis.

                          Our work was performed at Park Service offices in Washington, D.C., and
                          at AOC in Herndon, Virginia, from July 2002 through January 2003 in
                          accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

                          We requested written comments from the Department of the Interior on a
                          draft of this report. We received comments from the Assistant Secretary for
                          Fish and Wildlife and Parks, which we have incorporated into the report as
                          appropriate. These comments are discussed in the “Agency Comments and
                          Our Evaluation” section of this report and are reprinted in appendix II.



The Park Service          The Park Service does not know its actual costs for foreign travel or the
                          travel costs related to attending conferences. This is because its systems
Cannot Determine Its      and processes do not consistently or routinely record this information,
Foreign Travel Costs or   although they are required to do so.
Its Travel Costs for
Attending Conferences




                          Page 6                GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
The Federal Travel Regulation requires that agencies capture certain data
elements for processing federal travel expenditures. These data elements
include type of travel, such as foreign or domestic, and travel purpose,5
such as site visit, training attendance, or conference attendance. DOI and
Park Service travel regulations similarly require tracking travel type and
purpose. In addition, the Park Service’s foreign travel policies and
procedures specify that foreign travel be kept to the absolute minimum
necessary for achieving its mission and objectives.

The Park Service’s current system of processing travel vouchers and
recording travel expenditures includes a combination of both centralized
and decentralized functions. Airfare and other transportation costs, such as
rental cars, are centrally billed to the Park Service AOC, and recorded in
the aggregate as domestic travel, even though some of the transportation
charges on a given invoice may be for foreign travel. A travel voucher
claiming reimbursement for costs for transportation, lodging, meals, and
other incidentals can be processed at the traveler’s local park office and
paid with a third-party draft,6 or the voucher can be sent to AOC, where it is
forwarded electronically to Treasury for reimbursement to the employee.7

Park Service officials told us that its current travel accounting system is
limited in the amount of travel-related information it can preserve when
processing certain valid payment methods, including third-party drafts.
While travel type and purpose information may or may not be captured and
retained at all park offices, AOC officials told us that they do not receive
this travel information from the local offices or regions in enough detail to
satisfy the Federal Travel Regulation requirement. For those travel
vouchers processed at AOC, we noted that the current system has the
capacity to record the travel type and purpose, but those data fields were
not consistently being completed in processing individual vouchers.



5
 The travel purpose identifiers described in Appendix C of Chapter 301 of the Federal Travel
Regulation are site visit, information meeting, training attendance, speech or presentation,
conference attendance, relocation, and entitlement travel.
6
 A third-party draft payment system is an alternative payment system approved by the
Department of the Treasury for imprest-fund-type transactions. A draft agent issues the
draft after receiving the proper documentation and appropriate accounting information. The
draft is drawn on a third-party draft contractor’s account, and is issued to a vendor or
employee for payment of goods and services, including travel-related costs.
7
A third-party draft may only be used provided that the voucher is for $2,500 or less.




Page 7                     GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
Although the Park Service’s foreign travel policies and procedures require
that all foreign travel vouchers be sent to AOC for payment, AOC officials
told us that some Park Service field offices may be paying foreign travel
vouchers locally rather than submitting them to AOC. There is some risk of
this occurring because we found no procedures in place to ensure that all
foreign travel vouchers are sent to AOC for payment. Enforcement of this
policy would not automatically yield summary information on foreign
travel costs under the existing travel accounting system in view of the
weaknesses discussed above; however, it could facilitate the enhancements
necessary for tracking and monitoring Park Service foreign travel costs.

The Park Service is presently implementing a new end-to-end travel
management system that its officials represented as fully compliant with
the Federal Travel Regulation. When implemented, the new system will be
able to provide travel information such as the number of foreign trips and
conference attendance. However, this system is not expected to be
operational throughout the Park Service until approximately September
2003.

The Federal Financial Management Improvement Act of 1996 requires,
among other things, that agencies implement and maintain financial
management systems that substantially comply with federal financial
management systems requirements. These apply to existing systems in
operation and new systems planned or under development. These system
requirements are detailed in the Financial Management Systems
Requirements series issued by JFMIP and in Office of Management and
Budget Circular A-127, Financial Management Systems. JFMIP
requirement documents identify (1) a framework for financial management
systems, (2) core financial management systems requirements, and (3) 16
other financial and mixed systems supporting agency operations, of which
the travel system is one. In 1999, JFMIP issued its Travel System
Requirements, which defines mandatory and value-added functional
requirements for system administration and major elements of the travel
process. Mandatory requirements describe what the system must do and
outline the minimum acceptable functionality necessary to establish a
system. The capability to capture required standard data elements
contained in the Federal Travel Regulation is considered a mandatory
requirement.

In the absence of reliable detailed travel expense information such as travel
type and purpose, the Park Service and the Congress have limited
information available to determine whether funds appropriated for travel



Page 8                 GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
                        are being used effectively. In addition, GSA is limited in its efforts to collect
                        information on the use of federal travel dollars for the purpose of
                        developing cost-effective management practices governmentwide. For
                        example, as required by 5 U.S.C. 5707(c), GSA directs each federal agency
                        with more than $5 million in travel costs in a fiscal year to submit a biennial
                        report detailing such information as total travel costs, costs of foreign and
                        domestic travel, and costs of travel by varying purpose. While the Park
                        Service has submitted this type of information to GSA in the past, many of
                        the responses were based on estimates because the Park Service system
                        does not capture all the required data elements. Therefore, the accuracy
                        and reliability of the data it submits to GSA are questionable.



Total Reported Travel   After adjusting for inflation, total reported travel costs at the Park Service
                        in the past 3 years have increased by almost 29 percent, from
Costs Have Increased    approximately $39 million in fiscal year 1999 to approximately $50 million
Annually                in fiscal year 2002. Total reported travel costs for fiscal years 2000 and 2001
                        were $45 million and $47 million, respectively. Figure 1 further illustrates
                        the increased travel costs reported by the Park Service, which rose by 12
                        percent from fiscal year 1999 to fiscal year 2000, 4 percent from fiscal year
                        2000 to fiscal year 2001, and 7 percent from fiscal year 2001 to fiscal year
                        2002, or an average of 9 percent annually over the 3-year interval.




                        Page 9                  GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
Figure 1: Park Service Reported Total Travel Costs, Fiscal Years 1999-2002, Actual
and Adjusted for Inflation to 2001 Dollars
60 Dollars in millions



50



40



30



20



10



 0
         1999                     2000           2001           2002
     Fiscal year

               Inflation adjusted costs

               Unadjusted costs
Source: GAO.

Note: This figure represents GAO’s analysis of data provided by the Park Service.


Table 1 depicts the total reported travel costs for fiscal years 1999 through
2002, for the Park Service’s seven geographical regions, the Washington,
D.C., office, and three remaining reporting units. As indicated in the table,
travel costs for the Washington, D.C., office have increased by
approximately 60 percent, increasing from $5.6 million in fiscal year 1999 to
over $9 million in fiscal year 2002. Reported travel costs for the seven
regional offices combined increased by approximately 26 percent, from
almost $31 million in fiscal year 1999 to almost $39 million in fiscal year
2002. The three remaining units, which include the service centers and the
Job Corps Program, showed a slight decrease in reported travel costs,
going from almost $2.5 million in fiscal year 1999 to almost $2.4 million in
fiscal year 2002.




Page 10                              GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
Table 1: Total Travel Costs by Region, Fiscal Years 1999-2002

Amounts in 2001 dollars
                                                                Total travel costs reported by the Park Service
Region                                                      1999                      2000                       2001                      2002
Alaska Region                                         $2,596,218               $3,410,092                 $3,349,905                $3,270,865
Intermountain                                          7,564,609                 9,025,026                 9,291,335                  9,354,515
Mid-Atlantic Region                                    4,394,316                 5,007,060                 5,525,627                  5,896,676
Mid-West Region                                        3,650,768                 3,997,144                 4,260,674                  4,270,640
National Capital Region                                1,440,532                 1,539,385                 1,488,933                  1,562,141
Pacific West Region                                    6,620,250                 7,844,150                 8,001,775                  8,793,542
South East Region                                      4,379,039                 5,399,325                 5,559,439                  5,399,628
 Subtotal                                            $30,645,732              $36,222,182               $37,477,688                $38,548,007
Washington, D.C.                                      $5,585,035               $5,970,306                 $6,733,938                $9,030,333
Denver Service Center                                 $1,824,702               $1,968,331                 $1,781,823                $1,593,143
Harpers Ferry Center                                    646,873                    717,459                   651,599                    635,483
Job Corps Program                                         21,331                      9,582                    91,097                   136,076
 Subtotal                                             $2,492,906               $2,695,372                 $2,524,519                $2,364,702
Total                                                $38,723,673              $44,887,860               $46,736,145                $49,943,042
Source: GAO.

                                           Note: Dollars are adjusted to 2001 dollars. This figure represents GAO’s analysis of data provided by
                                           the Park Service.


                                           In commenting on a draft of this report, DOI stated that the sharp increase
                                           in travel costs for the Washington, D.C., office from fiscal years 2001 to
                                           2002 is primarily attributable to enhanced security measures in the wake of
                                           the events of September 11, 2001. During the course of our review or in its
                                           comments on our report, DOI did not provide any further information
                                           supporting its position. Without systems and processes in place that can
                                           track and record all pertinent travel related data, it is difficult for the
                                           agency to readily justify and document unusual variances and trends in
                                           Park Service employee official travel.



Alternative Data                           Given the Park Service’s failure to record and thus inability to confidently
                                           report actual foreign trips and the related costs, the Park Service’s OIA
Indicate That Foreign                      provided us estimated trip and cost data, based on authorization
Travel Has Increased                       documents supplemented by a database it uses to track the whereabouts,
                                           health, and safety of Park Service employees traveling outside of the
Annually

                                           Page 11                       GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
                     continental United States. OIA receives travel authorization documents,
                     including estimated costs for foreign travel, approximately 6 weeks prior to
                     a Park Service employee initiating such travel.

                     The OIA information indicates that the number of trips authorized for
                     foreign travel increased by approximately 32 percent, rising steadily from
                     355 trips in fiscal year 1999 to 470 trips in fiscal year 2002. Total pretravel
                     estimated costs for these trips increased from $488,830 in fiscal year 1999
                     to $652,236 in fiscal year 2002 (adjusted for inflation), indicating that
                     foreign travel costs may have increased by about a third during this 3-year
                     interval. There were 379 authorized trips for fiscal year 2000 at an
                     estimated cost of $639,345, and 442 authorized trips in fiscal year 2001, at
                     an estimated cost of $641,395. OIA does not verify that the authorized travel
                     actually took place, track actual costs in the event of a trip being extended
                     or shortened since approval, or determine whether reimbursements were
                     received where costs are shared by a host country or organization.
                     Appendix I provides further details on the estimated foreign travel
                     information compiled by OIA and the information is arranged by regional
                     office, with one total for all remaining park offices.



Foreign Travel       OIA evaluates opportunities and coordinates responses involving the Park
                     Service in international programs, projects, and activities. In addition, OIA
Authorization        is designated to ensure implementation of federal, DOI, and Park Service
Procedures Include   foreign travel procedures and regulations. Consistent with DOI policy, OIA
                     policy states that the number of travelers and the number and length of
Multiple Levels of   trips to foreign countries are to be held to the absolute minimum necessary
Approval             for conducting essential business and accomplishing established Park
                     Service objectives.

                     When a need to travel internationally is identified, either to attend a
                     conference or meeting or to provide technical assistance, the employee
                     must first obtain approval from his or her immediate supervisor by
                     submitting a foreign travel certification form8 and a justification
                     memorandum. The supervisor is to review the documentation for
                     consistency with Park Service program priorities and strategic planning
                     goals, cost-effective accomplishment of Park Service mission, and fiscally
                     responsible scheduling of the travel. The supervisor is to then determine if


                     8
                     Form DI-1175, a DOI document.




                     Page 12                 GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
              the costs can be met, and consider the impact of the employee’s time away
              from work.

              Upon supervisor approval, the required authorization forms are submitted
              to the employee’s regional director9 for approval, and then to OIA about 6
              weeks prior to the proposed travel. OIA forwards the documents to the
              Park Service’s Deputy Director, DOI’s Assistant Director for Fish and
              Wildlife and Parks, and DOI’s Office of International Affairs. Once all the
              agency approvals are received, OIA requests approval from the Department
              of State and the appropriate U.S. embassy. Travel may begin after all
              approvals are received.



Conclusions   The Park Service lacks systems and procedures needed to capture and
              report travel cost in accordance with the Federal Travel Regulation.
              Specifically, it does not identify travel type, which would indicate travel to
              foreign countries versus domestic travel, nor does it identify travel
              purpose, which would indicate travel related to site visit, or conference
              attendance, for example. System inadequacies and a lack of adherence to
              policies and procedures contributed to the unavailability of reliable,
              detailed travel data consistent with Federal Travel Regulation
              requirements. The Park Service is in the process of implementing a new
              travel accounting system that is designed to track all required data
              elements under the Federal Travel Regulation. However, this system is not
              expected to be fully operational until approximately September 2003.

              The Park Service’s reported total travel costs have increased over the past 3
              fiscal years. In addition, alternative data on foreign travel indicate that the
              number of authorized trips and the related costs for the same period have
              risen. Without reliable detailed historical travel information, such as
              foreign versus domestic travel cost, or travel costs by various purposes, the
              Park Service is limited in its ability to manage travel and transportation
              costs and the Congress has limited information available to determine
              whether funds appropriated for official travel are being used effectively.




              9
              Approval by an associate director is required for Washington, D.C., office employees.




              Page 13                   GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
Recommendations for   We recommend that the Secretary of the Interior require the Director of the
                      National Park Service to take the following actions:
Executive Action
                      • Establish procedures for capturing travel data, including travel type and
                        purpose, as required by the Federal Travel Regulation.

                      • Enforce existing Park Service foreign travel policy requiring all foreign
                        travel vouchers to be processed electronically by AOC to enable a
                        complete and proper recording of foreign travel costs.

                      • Address JFMIP Travel System Requirements when designing and
                        implementing the travel system scheduled for completion later this year
                        as well as any future travel systems.



Agency Comments and   In its written comments, DOI concurred with our recommendations and
                      described actions underway to address our recommendations. DOI also
Our Evaluation        described efforts being taken to reduce travel costs for the current fiscal
                      year. The comments are reprinted in appendix II.

                      While agreeing with our recommendations, DOI stated that it took
                      exception to certain statements in this report. First, DOI stated that our
                      report implies foreign travel costs are partly to blame for the high travel
                      costs reported, when in fact foreign travel comprises a small part of the
                      Park Service’s total travel costs. Our report does not make any
                      observations on the significance of foreign travel costs in relation to total
                      travel costs. Further, the report states that the Park Service does not know
                      its actual foreign travel costs for the periods we reviewed and therefore, it
                      would not have been possible for us to make any such observations.

                      Second, DOI stated that the number of estimated foreign trips in our report
                      was misleading. It stated that approximately 50 percent of the total number
                      of foreign trips shown in our report was actually across-the-border travel to
                      either Mexico or Canada, and thereby exempt from the required Foreign
                      Travel Certification Form (DI-1175). Our report provides the total number
                      of estimated foreign trips during the period under review based on the Park
                      Service’s reported information. In addition, DOI’s comment regarding
                      exemption from filing form DI-1175 for across-the-border travel is not
                      accurate. The Park Service’s International Travel Policies and Procedures
                      explicitly require that a DI-1175 be filed for travel to both Mexico and
                      Canada. For these reasons, our report does not differentiate between trips



                      Page 14                GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
to our bordering countries from trips to any others. Further, the estimated
numbers of foreign trips in our report were obtained by reviewing
approved forms DI-1175.

DOI commented that the Park Service was able to provide supporting
documentation related to foreign travel. However, as discussed in the
report, the Park Service could not provide its actual foreign travel costs for
the periods under review. The estimated trip and cost data provided by OIA
from the forms DI-1175 cannot be referred to as supporting documentation
for actual foreign travel costs incurred because of the caveats identified in
this report.

Finally, regarding travel purpose, such as training or conference
attendance, DOI noted that the report did not state that the Park Service
already captures the purpose for foreign travel. Our report points out that
the travel accounting system has the capacity to record travel type and
purpose, but notes that those data fields were not consistently being
completed in processing individual vouchers, which resulted in the Park
Service being unable to provide us with the requested data. Thus, this data
is captured for some travel, but it is not consistently recorded in the Park
Service’s travel accounting system in a manner that would facilitate routine
and comprehensive reporting of such data.

We are sending copies of this report to the Honorable Gale A. Norton,
Secretary, Department of the Interior; Schuyler Lesher, Director, Office of
Financial Management, Department of the Interior; appropriate
congressional committees; and other interested parties. This report will
also be available at no charge on GAO’s home page at http://www.gao.gov.
If you or your staffs have any questions regarding this report, please
contact me at (202) 512-6906. An additional key contact and contributors to
this report are listed in appendix III.




McCoy Williams
Director
Financial Management and Assurance




Page 15                GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
Appendix I

National Park Service’s Authorized Foreign                                                                                                     Appendx
                                                                                                                                                     ies




Trips and Estimated Travel Costs                                                                                                                Append
                                                                                                                                                     x
                                                                                                                                                     Ii




                                          The following are estimated foreign travel costs, adjusted for inflation, by
                                          fiscal year for the seven National Park Service (Park Service) regions, the
                                          Washington, D.C., office, and all parks in total.



Table 2: Estimated Foreign Travel Costs, for Each Region, the Washington, D.C., Office, and Parks Aggregated, Fiscal Years
1999-2002

Amount in 2001 dollars
                                                           Park Service estimates of foreign travel costs
Region                                              1999                         2000                           2001                       2002
Alaska Region                                  $46,393                               0                       $18,210                     $17,635
Intermountain Region                            29,486                         39,821                         13,334                       5,833
Mid-Atlantic Region                              4,508                         15,479                         30,129                      23,495
Mid-West Region                                  5,405                         23,830                         24,066                      14,305
National Capital Region                               0                         3,289                          2,430                       5,577
Pacific West Region                             27,485                         20,951                         34,594                      27,760
South East Region                                5,733                         23,085                          7,470                       4,053
 Subtotal regional offices                   $119,010                       $126,455                       $130,233                      $98,658
Washington, D.C.                             $139,135                       $161,297                       $131,107                     $110,910
All parks                                    $230,685                       $351,595                       $380,054                     $442,668
Total                                        $488,830                       $639,347                       $641,394                     $652,236
Number of trips                                      355                          379                            442                        470
Source: GAO.

                                          Note: This table represents GAO’s analysis of data provided by the Park Service’s Office of
                                          International Affairs.


                                          As of September 30, 2002, there were about 27 foreign trips already
                                          authorized for fiscal year 2003, at an estimated cost of $43,334, adjusted to
                                          reflect 2001 dollars.




                                          Page 16                       GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
Appendix II

Comments from the Department of the
Interior                                                                          Appendx
                                                                                        Ii




              Page 17   GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
Appendix II
Comments from the Department of the
Interior




Page 18                 GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
Appendix II
Comments from the Department of the
Interior




Page 19                 GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
Appendix III

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments                                                            Appendx
                                                                                                       iI




GAO Contact       Mary Mohiyuddin, (202) 512-3087



Acknowledgments   In addition to the contact named above, Lisa Crye, Douglas A. Delacruz,
                  Bonnie McEwan, and Jordan Tiger made key contributions to this report.




(190067)          Page 20              GAO-03-354 Actions Needed to Improve Travel Cost Management
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