oversight

VA Travel: Better Budgeting and Stronger Controls Needed

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-08-23.

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

                 United States General Accounting Office

GAO              Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee
                 on Oversight and Investigations,
                 Committee on Veterans’ Affairs,
                 House of Representatives

August 1999
                 VA TRAVEL
                 Better Budgeting and
                 Stronger Controls
                 Needed




GAO/GGD-99-137
GAO                United States
                   General Accounting Office
                   Washington, D.C. 20548

                   General Government Division



                   B-283221

                   August 23, 1999

                   The Honorable Terry Everett
                   Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight
                     and Investigations
                   Committee on Veterans' Affairs
                   House of Representatives

                   Dear Mr. Chairman:

                   This report responds to your request for information on travel-related
                                                                       1
                   issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). As agreed with your
                   office, our specific objectives were to provide information on (1) how VA
                   formulates its travel budget request; (2) whether VA’s use of excess travel
                   funds is in accordance with guidance from the Senate Appropriations
                   Committee regarding the reprogramming of funds between programs,
                   activities, or elements; and (3) whether VA has adequate internal controls
                   over the authority it grants to certain employees to authorize their own
                   travel and approve their own travel vouchers, as well as whether it has
                   adequate control over employees who are issued limited open travel
                   authorizations, which allow them to travel without additional
                   authorization. Your office asked that we address these issues out of
                   concern about the accuracy of VA’s travel budget request and the adequacy
                   of VA’s internal controls over travel. As agreed, we focused our review on
                   temporary duty travel by field employees.

                   VA’s total budget requests for travel, as contained in the President’s budget
Results in Brief   submissions to Congress, were comprised of estimates developed
                   separately for six appropriations accounts and four revolving funds. In
                   formulating their travel budget requests, managers of these accounts and
                   revolving funds reported that they generally considered the prior year’s
                   actual travel expenditures, adjustments for inflation, and expected
                   initiatives or program changes. VA budget officials said that the provision
                   in VA’s appropriations act limiting the department’s travel expenditures to
                   the amounts requested for travel in the President’s budget submission for
                   various appropriations accounts affected the way they formulated their
                   travel budget requests. The officials also said that the limitation caused

                   1
                    For a February 11, 1999, House appropriations hearing on VA, we provided the subcommittee
                   information about VA’s statutory travel budget limitation (which limits the amount that VA may spend
                   on travel to the estimates for travel contained in the President’s budget submission to Congress), travel
                   budget requests, and actual travel expenditures for fiscal years 1993 through 1999. The data from that
                   request are also provided in appendix I of this report.




                   Page 1                                                                   GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
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them to formulate travel budget requests that were large enough to ensure
that the legal limitations would not be exceeded.

VA’s travel budget requests have exceeded its actual travel expenditures
by millions of dollars in recent years. For the six appropriations accounts,
VA’s travel budget requests exceeded actual travel expenditures by about
$28 million in 1996, over $11 million in 1997, and over $5 million in fiscal
year 1998. VA’s travel appropriations have also exceeded actual travel
expenditures for these accounts by at least $9 million in each of the last 3
fiscal years.

VA reprogrammed excess travel funds, representing the difference
between the amounts included for travel in VA’s appropriations accounts
and travel expenditures—over $61 million in total for fiscal year 1993
through 1998. VA spent the excess travel funds on general operating
expenses, such as salaries and equipment. A recurring directive in Senate
Appropriations Committee reports directs VA to inform the committee
prior to any reprogramming that exceeds $250,000 between programs,
activities, or elements. VA did not inform the Senate Appropriations
Committee of the excess travel reprogrammings because it did not
consider switching excess travel funds to other object classes, in this
instance, to constitute reprogramming. We believe that VA’s switching of
excess travel funds constitutes reprogramming that is covered by language
in the committee’s report. However, this failure to inform the committee
of reprogrammings above the $250,000 threshold does not constitute a
violation of law.

The Comptroller General’s internal control standards require, among other
things, continuous supervision to ensure proper review and approval of
employees’ activities, as well as separation of duties and responsibilities in
authorizing transactions. Our review of travel files within 4 Veterans
Integrated System Networks (VISNs) and 4 Veterans Benefits
Administration (VBA) regional offices (representing 23 facilities) found
that VA’s limited open travel authorizations were being issued to many
employees without the required supervisory review to determine whether
they were frequent travelers. Although neither the Federal Travel
Regulation (FTR) nor VA’s travel policy defines frequent traveler, VA’s
travel policy chief defined a frequent traveler in the context of limited
open travel authorizations as one who travels an average of at least once
per month. Using this definition, we found that 220 of 239 employees (92
percent) at the 23 facilities with limited open travel authorizations were
not frequent travelers. We also found instances where administrative
personnel were not obligating the funds associated with limited open



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             travel authorizations in accordance with VA policy, resulting in a possible
             loss of control over expenditures. In addition, we found some other
             practices with respect to the processing of travel vouchers that raised
             questions about compliance with VA’s travel policy and the FTR.

             We also found that VA’s policy on delegated travel authority was being
             implemented without a system of controls to compensate for the lack of
             separation of duties inherent in self-authorization and approval of travel.
             At the 23 VA field facilities, we found 5 officials who authorized their own
             travel and approved their own travel vouchers that exceeded the
             applicable per-diem allowances without any justification, contrary to VA
             travel policy. Moreover, we found that no VA Central Office staff
             monitored the travel of field employees who had limited open travel
             authorizations or delegated travel authority, except for when their travel
             was the subject of complaints made to the department’s Inspector General.
             This lack of internal controls over open travel authorizations and
             delegated travel authority increases the potential for abuse and has
             hindered VA’s ability to prevent and detect noncompliance with travel
             requirements.

             We are making recommendations to VA to address the problems we
             identified.

             VA operates a nationwide program of healthcare, benefit services, and
Background   national cemeteries for veterans. The fiscal year 1998 budget authority for
             VA was $42.8 billion. VA’s largest components are (1) the Veterans Health
             Administration (VHA), which provides healthcare services to 2.7 million
             veterans and performs medical research and (2) VBA, which administers
             veterans’ benefits in the form of disability compensation and pension
             income, educational support, vocational rehabilitation, and housing credit
             assistance. To provide these services and administer benefits, VA staff
             travel to provide healthcare, meet with veterans’ groups, receive training,
             visit departmental facilities, conduct research, and attend professional
             meetings.

             As of April 30, 1999, VA had 194,932 full-time employees; VHA had 176,536
             full-time employees; and VBA had 11,231 full-time employees. In October
             1995, VHA was reorganized into 22 healthcare networks, or VISNs. In
             connection with this reorganization, VHA headquarters (Central Office) in
             Washington, D.C., downsized its staff by more than 20 percent and
             decentralized much of its operational decisionmaking authority to the
             field. VHA’s 22 VISNs oversee 172 medical centers. VBA has 58 regional
             offices.



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Chapter 57 of title 5 of the U.S. Code authorizes the payment of travel and
transportation expenses of government employees. Under this authority,
the General Services Administration (GSA) has issued the FTR to
implement statutory requirements and executive branch policies for travel.
                                                                       2
In July 1998, GSA revised the FTR into a question-and-answer format.
Under the revised FTR, agencies were given greater discretion to
determine their travel policies and procedures. However, since the FTR
was revised, VA has not amended its travel policy, dated February 28, 1995,
with respect to the department’s policies on employees authorizing and
approving their own travel and on those who are issued limited open travel
authorizations.

VA has a travel policy office that disseminates travel policies to all
facilities, but it has no central travel office that makes travel arrangements
or processes travel departmentwide. VA administers employee travel in a
decentralized manner, and each field facility processes travel for
employees working onsite. Some VA facilities have their own travel
policies that supplement the department’s travel policy.

The primary forms for completing employee travel are travel
authorizations and vouchers. Under VA travel policy, travelers normally
must complete travel authorizations prior to travel. These documents
must be authorized by “officials . . . cognizant of travel plans.” After the
travel is completed, employees must submit vouchers documenting
expenses incurred. These vouchers are to be approved by “the traveler’s
supervisor who has knowledge of the facts involved in the travel.” In each
VA field facility, administrative personnel prepare travel authorizations
and process vouchers for their employees and other VA employees
                            3
working at their facilities. According to a VA Central Office official, less
than one-half of all VA offices use automated travel-processing systems,
allowing travel authorizations and vouchers to be prepared and processed
on computer.

In reimbursing employee travel, VA follows rates established by GSA
known as the per-diem allowance, which is a daily payment for lodging,
                                       4
meals, and related incidental expenses. Reimbursement for actual travel

2
    FTR, chapter 300, parts 1-3, previously 41 C.F.R. 301-304.
3
 VA refers to other VA employees working at facilities as “tenants.” Some VA facilities process travel
vouchers for their tenants.
4
 GSA issues per-diem allowances for domestic travel and the Department of State issues per-diem
allowances for foreign destinations.




Page 4                                                                  GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
              B-283221




              expenses up to 300 percent of per diem is also permitted under special
              circumstances with proper justification.

              To describe how VA formulates its travel budget requests, we asked
Scope and                                                       5
              officials representing six appropriations accounts and four revolving
Methodology         6
              funds with travel budgets to explain how they formulated their travel
              budget requests from fiscal year 1993 through 1999. We also interviewed
              VHA and VBA budget officials, and reviewed OMB budget guidance.

              Because VA’s travel appropriations are not specifically identified in the
              department’s appropriations act, VA provided us the amounts for travel
              included in its appropriations accounts after appropriations were enacted,
              as well as actual travel expenditures. We did not verify this information.

              To determine whether VA’s use of excess travel funds was in accordance
              with the Senate Appropriations Committee’s guidance regarding
              reprogramming, we reviewed VA appropriations statutes, congressional
              appropriations committee reports, reprogramming guidance, and decisions
              of the Comptroller General regarding reprogramming. We also
              interviewed appropriations committee staff and VA budget and general
              counsel officials.

              To gain an understanding of VA’s internal controls over temporary duty
              travel, we interviewed VA’s travel policy chief and officials involved in
              preparing the department’s internal controls reports and officials from
              VBA’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer and VHA’s Office of the Chief
              Network Officer. We also interviewed GSA travel management policy
              officials and reviewed the FTR for temporary duty travel and travel system
              requirements reports issued by the Joint Financial Management
                                              7
              Improvement Program (JFMIP). In addition, we reviewed VA’s Federal
              Managers’ Financial Integrity Act reports and the Office of Management
              and Budget’s (OMB) and our guidance on internal control standards.
              Further, we reviewed our previous reports issued on travel and internal
              controls matters. We also contacted VA OIG officials about their
              investigations of employee travel and reviewed related OIG reports.
              5
               The six appropriations accounts are VHA Medical Care; VHA Medical and Prosthetic Research; VHA
              Medical Administration and Miscellaneous Operating Expenses; General Operating Expenses,
              including VBA, the Office of General Counsel, Board of Veterans’ Appeals, and Board of Contract
              Appeals; National Cemetery Administration; and the Office of Inspector General (OIG).
              6
               The four revolving funds are VHA Medical Care Cost Recovery (MCCR) Fund, Supply Fund, Canteen
              Service, and Franchise Fund.
              7
               JFMIP is a joint cooperative undertaking of the Office of Management and Budget, GAO, and the
              Office of Personnel Management to improve financial management in the government.




              Page 5                                                               GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
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To determine whether VA has adequate internal controls over the authority
it grants to certain officials to authorize and approve their own travel
(delegated travel authority) and employees who are issued limited open
travel authorizations, we reviewed the FTR and VA’s travel policies on
delegated travel authority and limited open travel authorizations. We
reviewed travel files of officials who exercised their delegated travel
authority and/or employees who had limited open travel authorizations at
facilities within 4 VISNs, which included 15 medical centers, and 4 VBA
regional offices (representing 23 VA field facilities) to determine the
adequacy of internal controls over these authorities. The travel files we
reviewed covered a 16-month period during fiscal years 1998 and 1999
(through January 31, 1999). In reviewing the travel files of officials who
exercised delegated travel authority, we compared their travel practices to
VA's travel policies and the FTR.

To assess internal controls over the issuance and usage of limited open
travel authorizations, we collected data on the number of employees who
were issued limited open travel authorizations and their frequency of
travel. We reviewed the frequency of travel by all employees with limited
open travel authorizations at the locations included in our review, except
for at one location where we selected a random sample of travelers. We
compared the issuance of limited open travel authorizations to VA’s travel
policy and the FTR. In the instance when we found a conflict between VA
travel policy and the FTR regarding the period of revalidating limited open
travel authorizations, we used the FTR, which takes precedence in this
instance.

We reviewed the travel files of officials who may have exercised delegated
travel authority and employees who were issued limited open travel
authorizations for this 16-month period and interviewed travel and
financial staff on site at VHA medical centers in Baltimore, MD; Bay Pines,
FL; Dallas, TX; Loma Linda, CA; Long Beach, CA; Los Angeles, CA;
Martinsburg, WV; San Diego, CA; and Tampa, FL; VISN executive offices in
Linthicum, MD; Bay Pines, FL; Grand Prairie, TX; and Long Beach, CA; and
VBA regional offices in Bay Pines, FL; Los Angeles, CA; Roanoke, VA; and
Waco, TX. At our request, six other VHA facilities that were part of the
four VISNs we selected provided travel files for our review regarding
officials who may have exercised delegated travel authority and data on
the frequency of travel by employees with limited open travel
authorizations. These six facilities included VHA medical centers in
Gainesville, FL; Lake City, FL; Las Vegas, NV; Miami, FL; San Juan, Puerto
Rico; and West Palm Beach, FL. The sites included in our review were
selected judgmentally to achieve geographic dispersion and to meet the



Page 6                                              GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
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                   subcommittee’s request that we visit certain offices. The results of our
                   travel file reviews, both at the facilities we visited and from those sites that
                   provided data at our request, are not projectable to the department.

                   We also surveyed all of VHA’s 22 VISN offices, which included 172 medical
                   centers, 58 VBA regional offices, and the VHA and VBA Central Office to
                   determine the extent to which limited open travel authorizations had been
                   issued to employees during the 16-month period. We received a 100
                   percent response rate to our survey.

                   We did our work at VA’s Central Office in Washington, D.C., and its field
                   facilities, which we visited from October 1998 through June 1999, in
                   accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. We
                   provided a draft of this report to the Secretary of VA for review and
                   comment. We received written comments from VA’s Assistant Secretary
                   for Planning and Analysis that are reprinted in appendix II. We discuss
                   these comments in the report where appropriate and in the agency
                   comment section at the end of this report.

                   VA’s total budget requests for travel, as contained in the President’s budget
VA Travel Budget                               8
                   submissions to Congress, were comprised of estimates developed
Requests           separately for six appropriations accounts and four revolving funds. In
                   formulating their travel budget requests, managers of these accounts and
                   revolving funds reported that they generally considered the prior year’s
                   actual travel expenditures, adjustments for inflation, and expected
                   initiatives or workloads. VA budget officials said that the provision of VA’s
                   appropriations act limiting the department’s travel expenditures to the
                   amounts requested for travel in the President’s budget submissions
                   affected the way they formulated their travel budget requests. The
                   officials also said that the limitation caused them to formulate travel
                   budget requests that were large enough to ensure that the legal limitations
                                             9
                   would not be exceeded. VA’s travel budget requests have exceeded the
                   department’s actual travel expenditures by millions of dollars in recent
                   years. However, as travel expenditures have increased in recent years, the
                   8
                    Hereafter in this report, VA’s total funding estimate for travel will be referred to as “VA’s travel budget
                   request.”
                   9
                    For many years, the annual appropriations acts that contain VA’s appropriations have included a
                   general provision that limits the amounts VA and other agencies covered by the act can spend on travel
                   expenses. For example, the fiscal year 1998 Appropriations Act containing VA’s appropriation, P. L.
                   No. 105-65, 11 Stat. 1344, 1381, provides that VA’s travel expenditures may not exceed the amounts set
                   forth in the budget requests submitted for the various appropriations accounts. If actual
                   appropriations exceeded the amount requested, expenditures may exceed the budget request by the
                   same proportion. The VA OIG is specifically exempt from the limitation. VA’s revolving funds are also
                   not subject to the limitation because they do not receive direct appropriations.




                   Page 7                                                                     GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                            B-283221




                            gap between VA’s travel budget requests and actual travel expenditures
                            has narrowed.

VA’s Formulation of its     VA’s travel budget request was comprised of estimates prepared for six
                            appropriations accounts: (1) VHA Medical Care, (2) VHA Medical and
Travel Budget Request       Prosthetic Research, (3) VHA Medical Administration and Miscellaneous
                            Operating Expenses, (4) VA General Operating Expenses, including VBA,
                            (5) National Cemetery Administration, and (6) OIG, and four revolving
                            funds that do not receive direct appropriations: (1) VHA’s Medical Care
                            Cost Recovery Fund (MCCR), (2) Supply Fund, (3) Canteen Service, and
                            (4) Franchise Fund. At our request, managers of these accounts and
                            revolving funds provided written explanations of how they formulate their
                            travel budget requests. Generally, they reported that they mainly consider
                            the prior year's actual travel expenditures, adjustments for inflation, and
                            expected initiatives or program changes. Representatives from these
                            accounts and funds provided the following descriptions of how their travel
                            budgets were prepared:

                          • VHA, which requested 81 percent of VA’s total travel budget request in
                                              10
                            fiscal year 1998, reported that it considers projected inflation, historical
                            obligation trends, and the impact of requested initiatives for its three
                                                                               11
                            appropriations accounts and one revolving fund. VHA also noted that VA
                            budget policy guidance does not provide any specific instruction on
                            preparation of travel budget requests. In addition, VHA budget officials
                            said that the provision of VA’s appropriations act, which limits the
                            department’s travel expenditures to the amounts requested for travel in the
                            President’s budget submission for the various appropriations accounts,
                            affected the way they formulated their travel budget requests. The
                            officials also said that the limitation caused them to formulate travel
                            budget requests that were large enough to ensure that the legal limitations
                            would not be exceeded.

                          • The Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget reported that its
                            formulation of the General Administration portion of the General
                            Operating Expenses appropriation (excluding VBA) is based primarily on
                            the prior year’s travel budget request, plus adjustments for inflation. VBA
                            did not identify any specific method of formulating its travel budget

                            10
                                 Excluding the revolving funds.
                            11
                               These are the Medical Care, Medical and Prosthetic Research, Medical Administration and
                            Miscellaneous Operating Expenses accounts, and the MCCR revolving fund. VHA reported that the
                            travel budget for MCCR, which was terminated in 1997, was based on estimated needs for managing
                            and completing specific projects or initiatives.




                            Page 8                                                              GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                             B-283221




                             request but said it was based on the department’s “call memorandum” for
                             the internal budget. The call memorandum requires travel estimates to be
                             broken out by category of travel, such as conferences, training, and
                             program travel, and supported with narrative justification.

                           • The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) said it considers recurring
                             operational requirements and key management initiatives requiring travel
                             funds, plus actual travel expenses from prior years.

                           • The OIG indicated that its travel budget request is influenced by many
                             factors, including personnel strength, tactical and strategic plans, external
                             demand for services, economic assumptions on cost, and historical
                             experience. OIG noted that formulating its travel budget is difficult
                             because of unanticipated work that can result from hotline complaints or
                             congressional requests.

                           • The Supply Fund’s manager said that its travel budget is based primarily
                             on the prior year’s travel budget, plus adjustments for inflation and
                             program initiatives.

                           • The Franchise Fund’s manager reported that it considers the prior year’s
                             actual travel expenditures, plus current and future business and customer
                             service needs.

                           • The Canteen Service’s manager said the starting point for its travel budget
                             is what was actually spent in the prior year, which may be adjusted for
                             workload and training needs, as well as additional personnel.

Travel Budget Requests,      VA’s travel budget requests have exceeded its actual travel expenditures
                             by millions of dollars in recent years. Although VA’s travel budget request
Actual Expenditures, and                                                           12
                             has averaged about $70 million annually since 1996, the department’s
Appropriations               travel expenditures have increased from about $44 million in fiscal year
                             1996 to nearly $62 million in fiscal year 1998. These increased travel
                             expenditures have narrowed the difference between VA’s travel budget
                             request and actual travel expenditures. VA’s travel budget requests
                             exceeded actual travel expenditures by about $28 million in 1996, over $11
                             million in 1997, and over $5 million in fiscal year 1998. VA’s travel
                             appropriations have also exceeded actual travel expenditures by at least $9
                             million in each of the last 3 fiscal years. VA’s budget requests,
                             appropriations, and actual expenditures for travel from fiscal year 1993
                             through 1999 are contained in appendix I.
                             12
                                  Excluding the revolving funds, which do not receive direct appropriations.




                             Page 9                                                                     GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
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                             In analyzing the most recent travel budget requests for individual VA
                             appropriations accounts, the differences between travel budget requests
                             and actual travel expenditures have been greater for VA’s three VHA
                             appropriations accounts (Medical Care, Medical and Prosthetic Research,
                                                                                                    13
                             and Medical Administration and Miscellaneous Operating Expenses) than
                             for VA’s three other appropriations accounts (General Operating
                             Expenses, including VBA; National Cemetery Administration, and OIG). In
                             fiscal year 1998, for example, the travel budget request for VHA’s Medical
                             Care account exceeded actual travel expenditures by $6.3 million, or 14
                             percent ($51.7 million budget request versus actual travel expenditures of
                             $45.4 million). Also in fiscal year 1998, VHA’s travel budget request for
                             Medical Administration and Miscellaneous Operating Expenses account
                             exceeded actual travel expenditures by $139,000, or 18 percent ($903,000
                             budget request versus actual travel expenditures of $764,000).

                             By comparison to VHA’s appropriations accounts, VA’s General Operating
                             Expenses account (including VBA) had a budget request that was about 6
                             percent or $641,000 less than actual travel expenditures in fiscal year 1998
                             ($10.7 million budget request versus actual travel expenditures of $11.3
                                      14
                             million). The National Cemetery Administration account had a budget
                             request in fiscal year 1998 that was 7 percent or $42,000 more than it spent
                             on travel ($625,000 budget request versus actual travel expenditures of
                             $583,000).

VA’s travel appropriations   From fiscal year 1993 through 1998, managers of VA’s appropriations
Reprogramming                accounts switched (reprogrammed) over $61 million in excess travel funds
have alsoTravel
Excess    exceeded  actual
                 Funds                               15
                             to other object classes. Reprogramming is the utilization of funds in an
                             appropriation account for purposes other than those budgeted or
                             projected at the time the appropriation was made (e.g., it is shifting funds
                                                                                         16
                             from one object class to another within an appropriation.) Therefore,
                             VA’s reprogrammed funds represented the difference between the
                             amounts included for travel in VA’s appropriations accounts and actual
                             travel expenditures. Tables 1 and 2 show the amount of excess travel


                             13
                                Since fiscal year 1993, VHA represented at least 67 percent of VA’s travel budget requests. Moreover,
                             VHA’s Medical Care account’s share of VA’s travel budget requests has increased from 60 percent in
                             fiscal year 1993 to 77 percent in fiscal year 1998.
                             14
                                VA’s General Operating Expenses account received an appropriation of $11.6 million in fiscal year
                             1998--$943,000 more than it had requested in its budget submission to Congress.
                             15
                                Object class codes identify the obligations of the federal government by the types of goods or
                             services purchased and are a means of monitoring how agencies spend their money.
                             16
                                  See unpublished Comptroller General Decision, B-278121, Nov. 7, 1997.




                             Page 10                                                                  GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
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                                           funds reprogrammed by appropriation account in each year from fiscal
                                           year 1993 through 1998 in nominal and constant dollars, respectively.


Table 1: VA Excess Travel Funds Reprogrammed From Fiscal Years 1993 Through 1998 (In nominal dollars)
Accounts/Funds              FY 1993     FY 1994     FY 1995       FY 1996       FY 1997       FY 1998                                  Total
VHA
 Medical Care                 $944,000 $1,301,000    $4,350,000 $19,372,000      $9,985,000    $9,197,000                             $45,149,000
 Medical & Prosthetic
                                                  a
 Research                    1,387,000    (24,000)      429,000     1,360,000       192,000       (88,000)a                            $3,256,000
 Medical Administration and
 Miscellaneous Operating
 Expenses                       91,000     296,000     (28,000)b    (140,000)b     (13,000)b       139,000                              $345,000
VHA subtotal:               $2,422,000 $1,573,000    $4,751,000 $20,592,000 $10,164,000        $9,248,000                             $48,750,000
General Operating
Expenses (includes VBA)      1,031,000   2,693,000    1,563,000     3,496,000     1,437,000        302,000                            $10,522,000
National Cemetery Admin.        31,000      30,000       18,000       133,000        10,000         42,000                              $264,000
Office of Inspector General    439,000     787,000      467,000       340,000     (156,000)c     (234,000)c                            $1,643,000
Total                       $3,923,000 $5,083,000    $6,799,000 $24,561,000 $11,455,000        $9,358,000                             $61,179,000
                                           a
                                            Although VA budget data provided indicated that $24,000 in fiscal year 1994 and $88,000 in fiscal
                                           year 1998 were reprogrammed into travel for Medical and Prosthetic Research, those amounts were
                                           available for obligation for 2-year periods and therefore did not exceed the statutory limitation.
                                           b
                                            VA's statutory limit on travel expenditures was not exceeded in this year because the budget
                                           submission for this account was larger than actual appropriations.
                                           c
                                               VA's OIG is exempt from the statutory limitation on travel expenditures.
                                           Source: VA Budget Office and GAO calculations of reprogrammed funds.



Table 2: VA Excess Travel Funds Reprogrammed From Fiscal Year 1993 Through 1998 (In constant 1999 dollars)
Accounts/Funds                FY 1993      FY 1994             FY 1995           FY 1996           FY 1997           FY 1998           Total
VHA
 Medical Care                 $1,052,000   $1,416,000           $4,623,000       $20,200,000       $10,220,000        $9,299,000      $46,810,000
 Medical & Prosthetic
 Research                      1,546,000        (26,000)a          456,000         1,418,000            197,000           (89,000)a    $3,502,000
 Medical Administration and
 Miscellaneous Operating
 Expenses                        101,000      322,000             (30,000)b       (146,000)b          (13,000)b          141,000        $375,000
VHA subtotal:                 $2,699,000   $1,712,000           $5,049,000      $21,472,000        $10,404,000        $9,351,000      $50,687,000
General Operating
Expenses (includes VBA)        1,149,000    2,930,000            1,661,000        3,645,000          1,471,000           305,000      $11,161,000
National Cemetery Admin.          35,000       33,000               19,000          139,000             10,000            42,000        $278,000
Office of Inspector General      489,000      856,000              496,000          355,000          (160,000)c        (237,000)c      $1,799,000
Total                         $4,372,000   $5,531,000           $7,225,000      $25,611,000        $11,725,000        $9,461,000      $63,925,000
                                           a
                                            Although VA budget data provided indicated that $26,000 in fiscal year 1994 and $89,000 in fiscal
                                           year 1998 were reprogrammed into travel for Medical and Prosthetic Research, those amounts were
                                           available for obligation for 2-year periods and therefore did not exceed the statutory limitation.
                                           b
                                            VA's statutory limit on travel expenditures was not exceeded in this year because the budget
                                           submission for this account was larger than actual appropriations.
                                           c
                                               VA's OIG is exempt from the statutory limitation on travel expenditures.
                                           Source: VA Budget Office and GAO calculations of reprogrammed funds.




                                           Page 11                                                                    GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
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As shown in tables 1 and 2, VHA’s Medical Care account generally
represented the largest share of reprogrammed funds, compared with
other VA accounts that received appropriated funds. From fiscal years
1993 through 1998, over $45 million in excess travel funds was
reprogrammed from VHA’s Medical Care account, or about 74 percent of
the over $61 million that all VA appropriations accounts reprogrammed
during that 6-year period. The next largest amount reprogrammed was
over $10 million, or about 18 percent, from VA’s General Operating
Expenses account during the same 6-year period.

Between fiscal year 1993 and 1999, the General Operating Expenses
account experienced the largest difference between its travel budget
request and actual travel expenditures in fiscal year 1996, when the
General Operating Expenses travel budget request exceeded actual travel
expenditures by more than $7 million, or 80 percent. According to VBA,
which is included in the General Operating Expenses account, VA was
funded through Continuing Resolutions during the first 6 months of fiscal
year 1996 and travel was held to a minimum. During fiscal year 1996,
VHA’s Medical Care account had a $19 million, or a 63 percent, difference
between its travel budget request and actual expenditures. VHA budget
officials said this difference occurred because of the unknown impact of
VHA’s reorganization into VISNs and because of the government’s
temporary shutdown in 1996. However, VHA’s Medical Care travel budget
request continued to exceed actual travel expenditures after fiscal year
1996, by nearly $10 million in fiscal year 1997 and $6.3 million in fiscal year
1998.

In commenting on the reprogramming of excess travel funds for the
Medical Care account, VHA indicated that the issue should be viewed in
the context of overall Medical Care obligations. VHA noted, for example,
that the $9.2 million it reprogrammed in 1998 represented only 0.05 percent
of total Medical Care obligations. Further, VHA officials said they believed
their managers should have the flexibility to determine how these funds
should best be spent on providing healthcare for veterans.

Excess travel funds in the VA accounts listed in tables 1 and 2 were
reprogrammed into other object classes, where the funds were disbursed
for expenses such as salaries and equipment. VA officials said that specific
uses or purchases with the excess travel funds could not be identified
because (1) each account’s spending plans for general operating expenses
are not fixed and the money can be moved around between categories of
spending; (2) spending needs change throughout the fiscal year, and
changes in spending plans may not be attributable to excess travel funds;



Page 12                                                GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
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and (3) general operating expense accounts are very large, compared with
the amount of excess travel funds.

A recurring directive that appears in Senate Appropriations Committee
reports directs VA to “notify the chairman of the Committee prior to each
reprogramming of funds in excess of $250,000 between programs,
                                17
activities, or elements . . . .” In commenting on a draft of this report, VA
officials said that VA does not view switching excess travel funds to other
object classes to be reprogramming that is covered by the Senate
Committee report language; and, therefore, VA has not notified the
committee when such switches occur.

We do not agree with VA for several reasons. First, as defined by the
                                                         18
Glossary of Terms Used in the Federal Budget Process, reprogramming is
the “[s]hifting of funds within an appropriation or fund account to use
them for different purposes than that contemplated at the time of
appropriation (for example, obligating budgetary resources for a different
object class from the one originally planned).” Second, although the
language in the Senate committee reports directs VA to notify the
committee of reprogramming of programs, activities, or elements
exceeding $250,000, there is nothing in the committee report to indicate
that the committee used such language in an attempt to modify the
generally accepted definition of reprogramming set forth above, or
otherwise to exclude reprogramming of funds from one object class to
another that exceeded the $250,000 threshold. Third, congressional
concern about VA’s travel and the way in which it uses those funds is
evident from its long-standing inclusion of a provision in VA’s annual
appropriations acts that limits VA’s travel expenditures to the amounts
requested for travel in the President’s budget submission.

It should be noted that the committee report language regarding
reprogramming, which directs the agency to notify the committee of
reprogrammings above the $250,000 threshold, does not have the force and
                                                      19
effect of law and is not legally binding on an agency. We also note that
VA plans to reconfirm with the committee the activities for reprogramming
notification as well as discuss an adjustment to the thresholds.



17
     For example, see Senate Report 105-53, July 17, 1997, for the fiscal year 1998 appropriation for VA.
18
     U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO/AFMD-2.1.1, Jan. 1993) (Exposure Draft).
19
     See Blackhawk Heating and Plumbing Co. v. United States, 622 F 2d 539,548 (Ct. Cl. 1980).




Page 13                                                                     GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
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                         VA’s travel policy allows employees who are frequent travelers to be
Internal Controls Over   issued limited open travel authorizations, which permit them to travel
Limited Open Travel      without preparing travel authorizations on a trip-by-trip basis. Our review
Authorizations and       of travel files within four VISNs and four VBA regional offices indicated
                         that these facilities had issued limited open travel authorizations to
Delegated Travel         employees who were not frequent travelers. Our review also revealed that
Authority                the frequency of employees’ travel was not being reevaluated before
                         reissuing the limited open authorizations, which violates VA travel policy.
                         VA’s travel policy also delegates authority to many of its top officials to
                         authorize and approve their own travel. We found that no VA Central
                         Office officials monitored the travel files of field employees who had
                         limited open travel authorizations or those who were delegated travel
                         authority, except when the employees’ travel was the subject of an
                         investigation that resulted from allegations of wrongdoing made to the
                         OIG. This lack of review suggests internal control weaknesses that could
                         hinder VA’s ability to prevent or detect abuse or noncompliance with its
                         travel policies.
                                                                                                                      20
Limited Open Travel      According to VA’s travel policy, limited open travel authorizations may
                         be issued to employees whose “duties require frequent travel of a
Authorizations                              21
                         repetitive nature.” VA’s travel policy does not define “frequent travel,”
                         but the department’s travel policy chief defined frequent travel in the
                         context of limited open travel authorizations to be at least an average of
                                               22
                         one trip per month. The policy also states that “an employee named in a
                         limited open authorization is permitted to perform temporary duty travel
                         without further authorization under certain specified conditions, which


                         20
                            VA’s travel policy also allows certain top officials to have unlimited open travel authorizations.
                         Under the policy, an employee with an unlimited open travel authorization is permitted to “perform
                         temporary duty travel without further authorization.” Unlimited open travel authorizations are
                         restricted to top officials in VA’s Central Office. VA reported that three VHA Central Office top officials
                         and three VBA Central Office top officials had unlimited open travel authorizations in fiscal year 1999.
                         Officials who may use unlimited open travel authorizations include the Secretary and assistants;
                         Deputy Secretary and assistants; Under Secretaries, their deputies and executive assistants; Assistant
                         Secretaries; Director, National Cemetery Administration; Medical Inspector, and other key officials.
                         According to VA’s travel policy chief, “other key officials” include the General Counsel, Inspector
                         General, Chairman of the Board of Veterans Appeals, and the Chairman of the Board of Contract
                         Appeals.
                         21
                          The policy indicates that open authorizations will not be used for foreign travel, entitlement or
                         permanent change of station travel, preemployment interview travel, or to attend national meetings,
                         conferences, and conventions of national service organizations as representatives of VA.
                         22
                           Under the FTR before it was revised in July 1998, limited open travel authorizations could be issued
                         to employees whose duties required “frequent repetitive travel.” The FTR contained no specific
                         definition of frequent repetitive travel, and, according to GSA, it was incumbent upon agencies to
                         determine what constituted frequent repetitive travel. The term “frequent repetitive travel” was
                         removed from the revised travel regulations.




                         Page 14                                                                   GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
B-283221




should include realistic limitations on purposes, geographic areas, trip
                     23
duration, and costs.”

VA’s travel policy requires that “all limited open authorizations must be
reviewed at the beginning of each fiscal year, and, if it is determined that
the authorization is still necessary, it will be revalidated by the designated
official.” VA’s yearly revalidation requirement conflicted with the FTR,
which, prior to its July 1998 revision, provided that limited open travel
                                                   24
authorizations should be revalidated quarterly. VA’s policy also did not
indicate that limited open travel authorizations should specify the number
of permissible trips, as was required under the FTR before July 1998.

VA did not maintain data on the number of VA employees who were issued
limited open travel authorizations. However, we surveyed all VHA and
VBA facilities, which reported that 986 VHA field employees and 981 VBA
field employees were issued limited open travel authorizations in fiscal
year 1998. VA reported that no Central Office VHA or VBA employees had
limited open travel authorizations. Responses to our survey also indicated
that VA employees who were issued limited open travel authorizations
were employed at grade levels ranging from General Service (GS)–5 to
executive-level officials.

The limited open travel authorizations that we reviewed indicated that
they were issued so that employees could perform the duties of their
positions or were to be used by employees for specific purposes, such as
making site visits, providing home-health care to patients, and conducting
training. Geographic limitations contained in the limited open travel
authorizations restricted employees from traveling to areas within the
VISN or region; particular cities, counties, or states; or the continental
United States. The authorized duration of trips ranged from 2 to 31 days.


23
   Before the FTR was revised in July 1998, under section 301-1.102 (a)(2), agencies were instructed
that a limited open authorization should include realistic limitations on purpose(s), geographic area(s),
number of trips(s), trip duration, and costs. This requirement was removed from the revised
regulations. However, the revised regulations in FTR section 301-71.103 provide that open
authorizations should include an estimate of the travel costs over the period covered.
24
  Although the FTR was revised in July 1998, VA is still following a 1995 travel policy that implemented
the prior set of federal travel regulations. Since 1995, VA has issued revisions to the travel policy
manual, but none related to delegated travel authority or limited open travel authorizations. The
revised FTR states that agencies must determine what internal policies and procedures must be
established for travel authorizations (FTR section 301-71.108) consistent with the guidelines in the
regulations. Therefore, according to GSA, under the revised FTR, agencies have the discretion to
determine if and when it will review and revalidate open travel authorizations. Although the revised
FTR does provide agencies with greater discretion in this regard, VA has not exercised this discretion
by revising its travel policy regarding limited open travel authorizations.




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                                                           25
  Of the 23 VA field facilities in our review, we found that 3 facilities issued
  limited open travel authorizations on a quarterly basis, 9 issued them
  yearly, and the remaining 11 facilities did not issue any limited open travel
  authorizations in fiscal year 1998. The facilities that issued limited open
  travel authorizations on a quarterly basis limited travelers to spending
  between a range of $9.50 to $10,000 per quarter, while those facilities that
  issued the limited open travel authorizations on a yearly basis limited
  travelers to spending from a range of not specifying any cost limits to
  $10,000 per year.

  Our review of travel files from the 23 VA field facilities indicated that many
  employees with limited open travel authorizations were not frequent
  travelers. VA’s travel policy manual does not define “frequent travel,” but
  we used the definition of frequent travel provided to us by VA’s travel
  policy chief. The travel policy chief defined frequent travel in the context
  of limited open travel authorizations as an average of at least one trip per
  month.

  The 23 VA field facilities in our review issued limited open travel
  authorizations to 296 employees in fiscal year 1998. We collected data on
                                  26
  the frequency of travel on 239 of the 296 employees during fiscal year
  1998 and found that 220 of the 239 employees (92 percent) traveled less
  than an average of once per month.

  Included in our review of the 239 limited open travel authorizations were
  the following examples of limited open travel authorizations being issued
  to employees who were not frequent travelers in fiscal year 1998:

• At one VBA regional office, 65 of 67 employees with these authorizations
  traveled less than an average of once a month.

• At another VBA regional office, we reviewed a random sample of 15 of
  those 72 employees’ travel files and found that 14 of the 15 employees took
  2 or fewer trips during the fiscal year.

• At a medical center, all 26 employees with this authorization traveled less
  than an average of once a month. Moreover, 17 of these 26 employees

  25
     The 23 field facilities comprised the 4 VISNs, which included 15 medical centers, and 4 VBA regional
  offices.
  26
     We collected data on a random sample of employees at one facility that had issued limited open
  travel authorizations to 72 employees. At that facility, we reviewed the frequency of travel by every
  fifth employee.




  Page 16                                                                  GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
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                                   took no trips during that fiscal year.

                                 • At another medical center, 23 of 25 employees with these authorizations
                                   traveled less than an average of once a month. Further, 16 of the 25
                                   employees traveled 4 times or less during the fiscal year.

                                 • At a third medical center, 31 of 32 employees took 3 or fewer trips during
                                   the fiscal year.

                                   VA officials at the facilities we visited where limited open travel
                                   authorizations were issued said the purpose of issuing them was to save
                                   time by avoiding the preparation of travel authorizations for each trip or to
                                   allow for travel on a moment’s notice. They said in the past, travel
                                   authorizations were prepared in a time-consuming manner using a
                                   typewriter and required making several carbon copies. Some officials
                                   acknowledged that certain employees were being issued limited open
                                   travel authorizations who were not frequent travelers. The officials
                                   explained that some limited open travel authorizations continued to be
                                   issued to employees whose positions involved travel in the past, but no
                                   longer did. They added that the practice of issuing the limited open travel
                                   authorizations had continued without reevaluating the employees’ current
                                   travel requirements or the relative ease of preparing travel authorizations
                                   on a per-trip basis using an automated travel system.

                                   At VA facilities where few or no limited open travel authorizations were
                                   issued, officials said they discouraged using this type of authorization
                                   because (1) funds expended under the authorizations are difficult to track
                                   and (2) employees may not be knowledgeable about federal travel
                                   regulations and per-diem rates, which could result in violations of the FTR
                                   and claims for nonreimbursable expenses. Other VA officials said their
                                   employees were not considered to be frequent travelers and did not ask to
                                   be issued limited open travel authorizations.

Other Problems Associated With     We also found the following examples of other problems associated with
Limited Open Travel                limited open travel authorizations, which violated VA travel policy:
Authorizations
                                 • An official at one VBA regional office said the office did not obligate all of
                                   the funds contained in the limited open travel authorizations. Rather, the
                                   official said the office obligated the amount of money contained in its
                                   travel budget, which was a smaller amount than the sum of all of the
                                   amounts contained in the limited open travel authorizations. Before its
                                   1998 revision, the FTR required agencies to obligate travel cost estimates




                                   Page 17                                                GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
  B-283221




                                            27
  contained in open travel authorizations. Under the current FTR, travel
  authorizations are to “provide financial information necessary for
                       28
  budgetary planning.” Although not stated explicitly in VA’s travel policy
  manual, according to VA’s travel policy chief and VBA’s Finance Director,
  funds contained in limited open travel authorizations must be obligated
  when the authorizations are issued.

• One medical center allowed its tenant employees with limited open travel
  authorizations to exceed the amounts contained in their limited open
  travel authorizations, and the medical center had to obligate additional
  funds after the travel was taken.

• Another medical center allowed employees with limited open travel
  authorizations to redelegate their authority to other employees, which
  violates federal travel regulations. Before the FTR’s 1998 revision, travel
  authorizations could be issued only to an employee and not to a position.
  The revised travel regulations state that agencies must determine what
  internal policies and procedures must be established for travel
  authorizations, including the circumstances under which different types of
  travel authorizations will be used. However, the regulations also state that
  all travel authorizations must include the name of the employee authorized
            29
  to travel.

• At 2 of the 23 VA facilities included in our review, limited open travel
  authorizations were issued for $350 or less per year. Two other facilities
  issued limited open travel authorizations for less than $100 per quarter.
  This appeared to conflict with VA’s travel policy requirement that limited
  open travel authorizations be issued to frequent travelers, given the costs
  of travel.

• Of the 23 VA facilities included in our review, 3 issued limited open travel
  authorizations that did not contain any monetary limitations; 6 issued them
  without geographic limitations; 3 facilities issued limited open travel
  authorizations without specifying the trip duration; and none of the
  facilities issued limited open travel authorizations specifying the
  permissible number of trips. These authorizations conflicted with VA’s
  travel policy requirement that limited open travel authorizations contain
  realistic limitations on costs, geographic travel areas, and duration of trips.

  27
       FTR section 301-1.102(d).
  28
       FTR section 301-71.100 (c).
  29
       FTR section 301-71.103(a).




  Page 18                                                GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                               B-283221




                               The FTR before its July 1998 revision required that limited open travel
                               authorizations specify the permissible number of trips.

                             • In fiscal year 1998, 9 of the 23 facilities in our review issued limited open
                               travel authorizations yearly, rather than being reviewed and revalidated at
                                                                                                30
                               least quarterly, as was required by the FTR before July 1998. In this case,
                               we applied the requirement in the FTR, rather than the VA’s policy, since
                               the FTR’s more stringent requirement is controlling. Under the revised
                               FTR, agencies have the discretion to determine if and when it will review
                               and revalidate open travel authorizations. Therefore, currently, VA’s travel
                               policy regarding the annual review requirement is permissible.

Delegated Travel Authority     VA’s travel policy delegates authority to many officials holding top
                               positions to approve their own travel authorizations prior to travel and to
                               approve their own travel vouchers to claim reimbursement for expenses
                               incurred. These officials include VA’s field facility directors, such as the
                               directors of VHA’s 172 medical centers and 22 VISN offices, as well as
                               VBA’s 58 regional offices. At our request, VA also provided data indicating
                               that officials holding 100 Central Office positions have delegated travel
                               authority. Table 3 lists the VA positions with delegated travel authority.




                               30
                                    FTR Section 301-1.102(a)(2).




                               Page 19                                               GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                                       B-283221




Table 3: VA Officials With Delegated                                                                       a
Travel Authority                       Title                                                Salary level
                                       Deputy Secretary                                     EX-II
                                       Chief of Staff                                       SES-6
                                       Under Secretaries                                    EX-III
                                       Under Secretaries’ Deputies, VHA Assistant
                                       Under Secretaries, and VBA Associate
                                       Deputy Under Secretaries                            SES or GS-15
                                       Assistant Secretaries                               EX-IV
                                       Deputy Assistant Secretaries                        SES 5-6
                                       Other Key Officialsb and their Deputies             EX-IV, SES 4-6, or GS-15
                                       VHA and VBA Chief Office Directors, VBA
                                       Chief of Staff                                       SES 4-6
                                       VHA and VBA Service Directors                        GS 14-15
                                       VHA VISN Directors, NCA Area Directors,
                                       and their Deputies                                   SES 4-5, GS 14-15
                                       Veterans Canteen Service Director                    Own pay system; equivalent of GS 13-14
                                       Regional Counsels                                    GS-15
                                       Field Facility Directorsc and Chief of Staff at
                                       VHA Facilities when designated by the
                                       Director                                             SES 1-4
                                       Field Facility Directors’ Associates and
                                       Assistants                                           GS 14-15
                                       Note: The Secretary also may authorize and approve his/her own travel.
                                       a
                                           EX is Executive Schedule. SES is Senior Executive Service.
                                       b
                                        Includes the General Counsel, Inspector General, Chairman of the Board of Veterans Appeals, and
                                       the Chairman of the Board of Contract Appeals.
                                       c
                                        Includes directors of medical centers, regional offices, regional and insurance centers, automation
                                       center, finance center, domicilliaries, outpatient clinics, supply depots and the National Acquisition
                                       Center.
                                       Source: VA travel policy office.



                                       VA does not maintain data on the number of top officials who actually
                                       authorize or approve their own travel. Our review of travel files from 23
                                       field facilities indicated that 12 of those facilities’ directors approved their
                                       own travel. The other 11 directors had their travel vouchers approved by
                                       other officials, such as their associate directors or operations staff.

                                       VA travel policy provides that travelers may spend up to 150 percent of the
                                       per-diem rate under special circumstances and that “procedures shall be
                                       established by each authorizing official to ensure that actual subsistence
                                       expense reimbursement . . . is properly administered to prevent abuse . . . ”
                                       The policy also states that “an appropriate review of the justification for
                                       travel on an actual subsistence expense basis shall be made.” However,
                                       our review of travel files from 23 facilities found 5 officials who approved
                                       their own travel vouchers making claims for actual expenses that



                                       Page 20                                                                  GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
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                                                                                              31
exceeded per-diem allowances without providing any justification. These
vouchers only listed the actual expenses claimed and did not justify or
explain the circumstances for exceeding per diem. We found no written
procedures in place at these facilities to ensure that actual subsistence
expense reimbursement was properly administered. Further, although the
claims were processed for reimbursement by travel clerks, the vouchers
were not reviewed by the travelers’ supervisors.

An amendment to VA’s travel policy, dated August 7, 1997, allows
authorization and approval of up to 300 percent of the per-diem rate within
the continental United States on an actual subsistence basis and may only
be used when “special or unusual circumstances result in an extreme
increase in subsistence costs for a temporary period.” The policy also
states that amounts exceeding 150 percent of per diem “shall not be
authorized or approved without technical advice from the travel policy
section.”

However, of the four VISN Directors’ travel files we reviewed, we found
that two VISN Directors exceeded 150 percent of per diem in lodging
without receiving approval from VA’s travel policy section, as required.
One VISN Director, who approved his own travel vouchers, claimed hotel
expenses of $260 per night in Washington, D.C., in June 1998, when the
lodging allowance was $126; and $191 per night in New Orleans in October
                                              32
1998, when the lodging allowance was $88. This VISN Director’s travel
vouchers did not provide any explanation for incurring expenses over the
per-diem allowance. Another VISN Director who did not approve his own
travel voucher, claimed a hotel expense of $174 per night in New Orleans
                                                         33
in October 1998, when the lodging allowance was $88. During an
interview with VA’s travel policy chief, we were told that field facilities
must make their requests to exceed 150 percent of per diem to her office in
writing and that a file was maintained of these requests. We reviewed the
travel policy office’s files regarding requests to exceed 150 percent of per
diem and found only four such requests during fiscal years 1998 and 1999,
and none of the requests for approval to exceed 150 percent of per diem
were from the two VISN Directors whom we found had exceeded 150
percent of per diem.

31
     These officials also signed their own travel authorizations for these trips.
32
  This VISN Director took 30 trips in fiscal year 1998 and 9 in fiscal year 1999 (through January 31,
1999).
33
  This VISN Director took 18 trips in fiscal year 1998 and 8 in fiscal year 1999 (through January 31,
1999).




Page 21                                                                       GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                    B-283221




                    Further, we found that another VISN Director had issued a blanket
                    temporary authorization for all employees of that VISN traveling to a
                    particular county to incur lodging expenses up to 200 percent of the
                    lodging allowance for that county. This action was taken in response to
                                                                                   34
                    action by GSA to lower the lodging allowance in that county. The travel
                    policy section’s files of requests to exceed 150 percent of per diem did not
                    contain a request from this VISN regarding this matter. VA’s travel policy
                    chief said this VISN Director should have sought approval from the travel
                    policy section regarding this temporary blanket authorization.
                                                                                                        35
Internal Controls   The Federal Managers’ Financial Integrity Act (FMFIA) of 1982 requires
                    agencies to establish internal accounting and administrative controls in
                    accordance with standards prescribed by the Comptroller General and
                    evaluate these controls in accordance with guidelines issued by OMB. The
                    act also requires that (1) the Comptroller General issue standards for
                    federal agencies internal accounting and administrative control systems
                    and (2) the Director of OMB issue guidelines for agencies to use in
                    evaluating these systems.

                    In 1982, OMB issued these guidelines in Circular A-123 (updated in 1995),
                    which indicated, among other things, that agency managers should
                    continuously monitor and improve the effectiveness of management
                    controls. According to VA internal control staff, travel has never been
                    reported as a material internal control weakness under FMFIA, and no VA
                    staff offices or components have done a systematic review of internal
                                                                               36
                    controls over travel. Further, OMB issued Circular A-127, which requires
                    federal agencies to conduct annual studies of their automated information
                    systems to identify material internal control weaknesses. We found that
                                                                        37
                    VA used at least three different automated systems to process employee
                    travel, but it had not conducted annual studies of these systems to detect
                    possible weaknesses.

                    In 1983, the Comptroller General issued standards for internal controls in
                    the federal government that contained the criteria we used to assess VA’s
                    internal controls over delegated travel authority and limited open travel
                    34
                       The blanket authorization was issued for 4 months. GSA reconsidered and increased the lodging
                    allowance for that county.
                    35
                         P.L. 97-255.
                    36
                         OMB Circular No. A-127, Revised July 23, 1993.
                    37
                       These systems included PC Travel Enterprise, developed by VA; Travel Manager, developed by GSA;
                    and PerDiemAzing, developed by a private contractor. One of the VA facilities we visited for our
                    review also had developed its own automated travel system.




                    Page 22                                                               GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
B-283221




authorizations. Under the Comptroller General’s internal control
            38
standards, separation of duties is a key internal control that applies to
employee travel. These standards require that key duties and
responsibilities in authorizing, processing, recording, and reviewing
transactions should be separated among individuals. To reduce the risk of
error, waste, or wrongful acts, or to reduce the risk of them going
undetected, no one individual should control all key aspects of a
transaction. Rather, duties and responsibilities should be assigned
systematically to a number of different individuals to ensure that effective
checks and balances exist. Similarly, JFMIP’s document entitled “Travel
System Requirements” also established a mandatory requirement that
                                                                  39
agencies’ travel systems maintain adequate separation of duties. Because
VA operates in a decentralized environment, it has delegated management
of internal controls to the Administrations (e.g., VHA and VBA, and staff
offices). In this regard, VHA and VBA are responsible for ensuring that
their field facilities adhere to VA travel policy.

VA’s travel policy provides for many of its top officials to be delegated
authority to authorize and approve their own travel. We found that this
policy was being implemented in the field without compensating controls,
which increases the likelihood that errors and abuses may occur and not
be detected. Our review determined that no VA Central Office staff,
including VHA and VBA Central Office staff, monitored the travel of field
employees who had limited open travel authorizations or delegated travel
authority, except when their travel was the subject of complaints made to
the OIG. An OIG official said that the OIG previously conducted audits of
VA field facilities, including travel, but that the site audits ceased about 10
           40
years ago. However, we believe that compensating internal controls,
such as periodically checking the travel vouchers of officials who approve
their own travel with an oversight staff could compensate for the lack of
separation of duties inherent in VA’s delegated travel policy.

The Comptroller General’s internal control standards also state that
qualified and continuous supervision is to be provided to ensure that
38
   Although these standards remain conceptually sound and are used throughout the federal
government, they are being updated and enhanced to recognize recent internal control evaluation
guidance developed by the private sector with assistance from us and other as well as to give greater
recognition to the increasing use of information technology.
39
   Mandatory requirements are based on federal laws and regulations. Agencies heads evaluate their
systems against these requirements to determine compliance with system requirements under FMFIA.
40
   An OIG official said that the OIG has conducted reviews of Central Office senior officials’ travel as
part of the Financial Statement Audit. These reviews were of a sample of Central Office senior
officials’ travel.




Page 23                                                                    GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                                 B-283221




                                 internal control objectives are achieved. Assignment, review, and approval
                                 of a staff’s work should result in the proper processing of transactions and
                                 events, including (1) following approved procedures and requirements; (2)
                                 detecting and eliminating errors, misunderstandings, and improper
                                 practices; and (3) discouraging wrongful acts from occurring or from
                                 recurring. VA’s travel policy also requires that limited open travel
                                 authorizations be reviewed at the beginning of each fiscal year, and, if it is
                                 determined that the authorizations are still necessary, revalidated by the
                                 designated official.

                                 As stated earlier in this report, VA’s travel policy, which requires that
                                 limited open travel authorizations be revalidated annually, conflicted with
                                 the FTR, which required a quarterly revalidation prior to its revision in July
                                 1998. Although 12 of the 23 facilities in our review issued limited open
                                 travel authorizations in fiscal year 1998, only 3 of the 12 issued them
                                 quarterly; this conflict between VA’s travel policy and the FTR may explain
                                 why 9 other facilities in our review issued these authorizations annually.
                                 However, regardless of whether the limited open travel authorizations
                                 were issued quarterly or annually, we found that limited open travel
                                 authorizations were being reissued routinely without periodic supervisory
                                 reevaluation of whether the employees were frequent travelers. For
                                 example, at one medical center, we found that 31 of the 32 employees who
                                 were issued limited open travel authorizations had taken 3 or fewer trips in
                                 fiscal year 1998.

                                 We found one VBA regional office had its own travel policy that appeared
                                 to contain opportunities for implementing supervisory internal controls
                                 over the use of limited open travel authorizations both before and after the
                                 travel occurred. According to the policy, employees with limited open
                                 travel authorizations were required to submit itineraries to their
                                 supervisors prior to travel. The policy further required that those
                                 itineraries, the limited open travel authorizations, and approved travel
                                 vouchers must be maintained for 2 years. According to the policy, “the
                                 documents will be reviewed periodically to satisfy the requirements for
                                                                                      41
                                 internal controls and related systematic analyses.”

Other Travel Policy Compliance   During the course of review regarding internal controls over VA’s
Issues                           delegated travel policy and the issuance of limited open travel
                                 authorizations, we found some other practices that raised questions about
                                 compliance with the department’s travel policy and the FTR:

                                 41
                                   This office had not issued limited open travel authorizations to any of its employees in recent years,
                                 so we were unable to observe how this policy was being implemented.




                                 Page 24                                                                   GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
              B-283221




              Vouchers contained improper signatures for the traveler and the approving
              official or were not approved for payment by a certifying officer. They
              included the following:

                    • At one VBA facility, an assistant to the regional director (a GS-13) was
                      signing as the traveler on the director’s travel vouchers. Federal
                      travel regulations require the traveler to affirm by signature or initials
                                                  42
                      that the voucher is correct.


                    • At a medical center, we observed that fiscal staff, rather than the
                      traveler’s supervisors, were signing travel vouchers as the approving
                      officials. VA travel policy requires employee travel vouchers to be
                      “examined and approved by the employee’s supervisor having
                                                                     43
                      knowledge of the facts involved in the travel.”


                    • Another medical center was using an automated travel processing
                      system that did not generate travel vouchers that included space for
                      approval by a certifying officer, and the vouchers were not signed by
                      a certifying official. However, under VA travel policy, a certifying
                      officer should be responsible for reviewing vouchers before payment
                      is made.

              VA’s travel budget requests have substantially exceeded its actual travel
Conclusions   expenditures in recent years. Travel budget requests for VHA’s Medical
              Care account, in particular, do not appear to be realistic estimates of travel
              expenditures. We recognize that the appropriations provisions that limit
              VA’s travel expenditures to the amounts set forth in the budget requests
              may have caused VA to overstate its annual travel budget requests. We
              also recognize that OMB does not provide any specific guidance on the
              formulation of travel budget requests. However, we believe that the
              difference between VA’s travel budget requests and actual travel
              expenditures in recent years, particularly in VA’s Medical Care
              appropriations account, has been larger than appears reasonable to avoid
              exceeding the ceiling on travel expenditures.

              By reprogramming millions of dollars in excess travel funds in recent years
              without notifying the Senate Appropriations Committee, VA has not

              42
                   41 C.F.R. part 301-52.3.
              43
                   VA policy manual, chapter 2, paragraph 18 (b)(1).




              Page 25                                                   GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                    B-283221




                    adhered to the guidance from that committee directing VA to notify it prior
                    to any reprogramming that exceeds $250,000. Although VA’s failure to
                    notify the committee of reprogrammings that exceed the $250,000
                    threshold does not give the committee an adequate opportunity to review
                    VA’s plans to use funds in a manner different from the manner proposed
                    when it requested those funds, VA’s failure to notify the committee does
                    not constitute a violation of law.

                    VA lacks adequate internal controls over its limited open travel
                    authorizations and delegated travel authority, resulting in the potential for
                    abuse or noncompliance with requirements. We found instances of limited
                    open travel authorizations not being administered in accordance with VA
                    policy, with respect to the obligation of funds and limitations on purposes,
                    number of trips, geographic areas, trip duration, and costs. We also found
                    a lack of separation of duties and supervision inherent in these policies
                    and that compensating internal controls were not in place to mitigate the
                    risk of abuse or noncompliance with requirements. Compensating
                    controls, such as periodic monitoring or supervisory review, should enable
                    VA to assess whether top officials who are authorizing and approving their
                    own travel are following VA travel policies and making proper expense
                    claims. Another compensating control, periodic reevaluations, should
                    enable VA to determine whether employees with limited open travel
                    authorizations are frequent travelers.

                    We recommend that the Secretary of VA direct appropriate officials to
Recommendations
                  • reexamine the budget formulation process, particularly with respect to
                    VHA’s Medical Care appropriations account, to determine what steps can
                    be taken to improve the accuracy of the travel budget requests.

                  • follow congressional guidance directing VA to inform the Senate
                    Appropriations Committee prior to reprogramming more than $250,000 in
                    excess travel funds and see that any new agreements reached with the
                    committee regarding the activities or amounts subject to reprogramming
                    rules be documented.

                  • periodically monitor travel taken by employees who may authorize and
                    approve their own travel and employees who have limited open travel
                    authorizations to assess compliance with travel policies and regulations.

                  • reevaluate the manner in which limited open travel authorizations are
                    administered, including (1) whether funds are being obligated in
                    accordance with VA policy; (2) whether the authorizations contain



                    Page 26                                              GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                               B-283221




                               reasonable limitations on purposes, geographic areas, trip duration, and
                               costs; and (3) whether the employees who have been issued limited open
                               travel authorizations are expected to be frequent travelers, and if not,
                               revoke or not renew those authorizations.

                               We requested comments on a draft of this report from VA. In a letter dated
Agency Comments and            August 3, 1999, VA provided us with comments on the draft, which we
Our Evaluation                 have reprinted in appendix II. VA disagreed with our first two
                               recommendations to reexamine its travel budget formulation process and
                               to inform the Senate Appropriations Committee regarding the
                               reprogramming of excess travel funds. It agreed with our
                               recommendation to monitor the travel of employees who may authorize
                               and approve their own travel and who have limited open travel
                               authorization. Finally, VA agreed in principle with our recommendation to
                               reevaluate the manner in which limited open travel authorizations are
                               administered.

Reexamine Budget Formulation   VA did not concur with our recommendation to reexamine its budget
Process                        formulation process. The department indicated that its current means of
                               developing a travel estimate for expenditures several years into the future
                               is sound and ensures that funds are available for travel activities affecting
                               areas of immediate importance to veterans or their direct service
                               providers. VA said that its current process considers the department’s full
                               range of potential travel needs and to do otherwise could jeopardize travel
                               activities. For example, VA said that with the recent advent of community
                               and hospital-based home care, VA expects an increased use of travel funds.
                               VA stated that because Congress limits travel expenditures to the amounts
                               contained in the President’s travel budget requests, VA’s travel budget
                               requests invariably result in overstatements of travel needs. In addition,
                               VA stated that events or circumstances beyond the department’s control
                               contributed to revised travel estimates after the budget requests were
                               submitted, such as the 1996 government shutdown and the reorganization
                               of VHA. Moreover, VA stated that the amounts of the excess travel funds
                               must be kept in perspective with the overall $17 billion appropriation that
                               Congress provides for veterans’ health care.

                               We recognize that VA would like to ensure that the limitation on travel
                               expenditures does not have a potentially negative effect on the services
                               provided to veterans and on those who provide such service and that VA’s
                               travel limitation can result in some overstatement of travel needs. We also
                               do not disagree with the possible need for increased travel expenses to
                               provide veterans’ health care. However, we continue to believe that the
                               size of the difference between VA’s travel budget requests and actual travel



                               Page 27                                              GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
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expenditures, particularly with respect to VA’s Medical Care
appropriations account, has been larger than might be considered
reasonable to avoid exceeding the limitation. In fiscal year 1998, for
example, the travel budget request for VHA’s Medical Care account, which
represented 77 percent of VA’s total budget request for that year, exceeded
actual travel expenditures by $6.3 million, or by about 14 percent. Despite
that difference, VA increased the travel budget request for Medical Care by
$3.5 million in fiscal year 1999. Further, our report contained VA’s views
that the amounts of the excess travel funds should be viewed in relation to
the size of the overall Medical Care appropriation and that events in 1996
such as the government shutdown affected travel expenditures that year.

VA also indicated that reexamining its budget formulation process was
unnecessary because its travel cap has been “straight-lined” for fiscal years
1999 and 2000 and that it proposes to maintain that level in future budget
requests until actual expenditures are closer to the budget request. We
note that only the budget request for the Medical Care account is at a
constant level for fiscal years 1999 and 2000, while travel budget requests
for VA’s other appropriations accounts increased by a total of $8.5 million
from $17.9 million to $26.4 million during that same period, or a 48 percent
increase.

We believe that VA’s proposal to achieve a smaller difference between its
actual travel expenditures and budget requests is the appropriate goal.
However, a constant-level Medical Care travel budget request for fiscal
years 1999 and 2000 suggests that VA is not formulating its request for that
account based on a thorough consideration of prior years’ expenditures
and future needs. We are concerned that in the future, after VA ceases use
of a constant-level budget request for Medical Care, no assurance exists
that a smaller difference will be maintained. Although we focused on
increases in travel budget requests for the Medical Care account, we are
also concerned about the 48 percent increase in the travel budget request
for the other appropriations accounts in fiscal year 2000. Since 1993, the
largest annual increase in actual travel expenditures for the other
appropriations accounts was 14 percent in fiscal year 1997. Therefore, we
question whether this 48 percent increase is based on a realistic estimate
of travel expenditures and needs. We continue to believe that VA should
reexamine its budget formulation process to improve the accuracy of its
budget requests.

VA also indicated that in 1997, VHA’s travel expenditures under its Medical
Care account increased by over $10 million to $41.4 million, which the
department said it would not have been able to achieve if the travel



Page 28                                              GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                         B-283221




                         limitation had not been increased starting in 1995. We recognize that VA
                         increased its Medical Care travel budget request by $6.8 million in fiscal
                         year 1995, by $10 million in fiscal year 1996, and by $1.4 million in fiscal
                         years 1997. However, these increases appear to have been larger than
                         needed, since the Medical Care travel budget request in fiscal year 1997
                         ($51.4 million) was $10 million more than actual travel expenditures ($41.4
                         million) that year.

Follow Congressional     VA also did not concur with our recommendation that the Secretary of VA
Reprogramming Guidance   direct VA officials to follow congressional guidance to inform the
                         committee prior to any reprogrammings of more than $250,000 in excess
                         travel funds. VA stated that for several reasons, it does not view switching
                         excess travel funds to other object classes to be reprogramming covered
                         by the Senate report language and that it therefore has not violated
                         congressional guidance regarding reprogramming. First, it stated that the
                         Appropriations Committees have always been aware of the status of travel
                         funds because VA submits an annual report to the committee staffs that
                         compares budgeted, appropriated, and actual travel expenditures to
                         ensure compliance with the statutory restriction limiting amounts that VA
                         can spend on travel to the amounts requested for travel in the President’s
                         budget submission. VA further maintained that it has agreed with the
                         committee staffs that reprogramming only applies to the major program
                         activity components listed in the Program and Financing Schedule
                         contained in the Budget Appendix, which is defined in terms of major
                         program activities, not in terms of objects of expense.

                         VA stated that its interpretation of congressional expectations regarding
                         reprogramming has not been challenged by the committee. VA also stated
                         that redefining reprogramming requirements to apply to an object class
                         level is inconsistent with objectives of the Government Performance and
                         Results Act (Results Act) and other reinvention efforts that encourage
                         managerial flexibility. VA maintained that it has been extremely efficient
                         in using travel funds and should not be held to an unprecedented degree of
                         oversight.

                         Finally, VA noted that the $250,000 reprogramming threshold was
                         developed many years ago when budgets were smaller. VA proposed to
                         meet with committee staff to reach a mutual agreement concerning both
                         the activities within each VA appropriation that need to be subject to
                         reprogramming and realistic reprogramming thresholds. VA
                         acknowledged this had not been done in recent years and that clarification
                         of the reprogramming process would be beneficial to both VA and
                         Congress.



                         Page 29                                              GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
B-283221




With respect to VA’s proposal to meet with committee staff to reach
mutual agreement concerning the activities within each VA appropriation
that will be subject to the reprogramming rules and agree on more realistic
reprogramming thresholds, we agree that this is desirable and would be
beneficial to both VA and Congress. We also believe that any agreements
reached on the activities subject to reprogramming should be documented
to provide a record of the agreement reached and prevent future
misunderstandings. However, unless or until such an agreement is
reached with the committee, VA should comply with the existing
guidelines set forth in the committee reports. While VA maintains that the
Appropriations Committees were fully aware of and concurred in VA’s
interpretation of the reprogramming guidelines, it provided no
documentation supporting this or showing that it informed the committee
of how it planned to use the funds that were shifted from the travel
account. Further, we believe that VA’s proposal to meet with the
committee staffs to clarify these guidelines and the circumstances in
which they would apply would be consistent with our recommendation.

Nonetheless, unless or until a contrary documented understanding is
reached under the applicable congressional guidance, VA should notify the
Senate Committee whenever it shifts $250,000 or more in travel funds to
other object classes. Such shifts fall within the definition of
reprogramming contained in the Glossary of Terms Used in the Federal
Budget Process as the “[s]hifting funds within an appropriation or fund
account to use them for different purposes than those contemplated at the
time of appropriation (for example, obligating budgetary resources for a
                                                          44
different object class from the one originally planned).”

VA said that redefining reprogramming to apply to travel expenditures—an
object class level—is inconsistent with the objectives of the Results Act
and other reinvention efforts encouraging managerial flexibility and would
hold VA to an unprecedented degree of oversight. Under the generally
accepted definition of reprogramming quoted in the previous paragraph,
we do not agree that we are redefining reprogramming requirements.
Further, while managerial flexibility is a desirable objective, nothing in the
Results Act provides agencies with a basis for not adhering to
congressional guidance or directives. Moreover, while we recognize that
the travel expenditures in question comprise a relatively small percentage
of VA’s overall budget, over $61 million in excess travel funds were
reprogrammed from fiscal years 1993 through 1998. Further,

44
  U.S. General Accounting Office, A Glossary of Terms Used in the Federal Budget Process
(GAO/AFMD-2.1.1, Jan. 1993 ) (Exposure Draft).




Page 30                                                              GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                               B-283221




                               congressional concern about VA’s travel budget and the way in which it
                               uses those travel funds is evident from its long-standing inclusion of a
                               provision in VA’s annual appropriations acts that limits VA’s travel
                               expenditures to the amounts requested for travel in the President’s budget
                               submission.

Monitor Travel Taken by        VA concurred with our recommendation to periodically monitor the travel
Employees With Delegated       of employees with delegated travel authority and those who have limited
Travel Authority and Open      open travel authorizations. VA said that it recognized that its management
Travel Authorizations          of self-approved travel and open travel authorities needed improvement
                               and said that periodic monitoring of employees’ travel could be done
                               without significantly raising overhead costs.

                               VA suggested that we clarify in the report that VA operates in a
                               decentralized environment and has delegated management of internal
                               controls to the Administrations (e.g., VHA and VBA, and staff offices,
                               typically to the facility level). In this regard, VHA and VBA are responsible
                               for ensuring that their field facilities adhere to VA travel policy. We
                               clarified the report on this matter where appropriate. VA also indicated
                               that VHA’s Chief Network Office will coordinate with VHA field and
                               headquarters offices to devise a plan to initiate monitoring of travel. In
                               addition, VA indicated that, among other actions, VBA’s (1) Central Office
                               will perform periodic reviews of travel documents and conduct on-site
                               reviews and (2) Office of Field Operations will review the travel of
                               employees with delegated travel authority and those with limited open
                               travel authorizations. These proposed actions appear to respond to our
                               recommendation on this matter.

Reevaluate Administration of   Finally, VA concurred in principle with our recommendation to reevaluate
Limited Open Travel            the manner in which limited open travel authorizations are administered.
Authorizations                 VA indicated that this recommendation will be accomplished through the
                               monitoring of travel and that if significant problems are found, it will
                               initiate additional action. According to VA, these reviews will determine
                               whether limited open travel authorizations are being properly issued,
                               documented, and reviewed, and whether funds are being properly
                               obligated. We believe this is a reasonable approach to implementing our
                               recommendation.

                               While agreeing in principle with this recommendation, VA also said that it
                               defines “frequent traveler” by many methods. For the purposes of
                               obtaining a travel card, for example, VA said that an employee who travels
                               twice a year would be a frequent traveler. We recognized that VA may
                               define a frequent traveler in different ways and indicated throughout this



                               Page 31                                               GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
B-283221




report that the definition used ( i.e., an employee who travels at least once
a month) was provided by VA’s travel policy manager in the context of
issuing limited open travel authorizations.

VA said that another reason for issuing limited open travel authorizations,
in addition to facilitating the travel of frequent travelers, is to allow
employees to travel without notice. According to VA’s travel policy
manager, employees whose jobs require travel without notice may be
issued limited open travel authorizations. We note that the FTR states that
agencies should establish procedures for travel situations where it is not
                                                                          45
practical or possible to issue a written travel authorization in advance.
However, VA’s travel policy manual does not contain any provisions that
permit the issuance of limited open travel authorizations to employees
who must travel without notice.

Finally, VA said that although it has not issued a revised travel policy
manual since 1995, the policy has been updated through field faxes and
messages from the Secretary. We added this information to the report but
also indicated that none of the travel policy updates related to delegated
travel authority or limited open travel authorizations.

We are sending copies of this report to Senator Robert Byrd, Senator John
Rockefeller, Senator Ted Stevens, and Senator Arlen Specter, and to
Representative Corrine Brown, Representative Lane Evans, Representative
David Obey, Representative Bob Stump, and Representative Bill Young in
their capacities as Chair or Ranking Minority Member of Senate and House
Committees and Subcommittees. We are also sending copies of this report
to the Honorable Togo West, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Copies will
also be made available to others upon request.




45
     Note to FTR section 301-71.105.




Page 32                                               GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
B-283221




Major contributors to this report were Gerald Barnes and Robert Homan.
If you have any questions, please contact me on (202) 512-8387 or at
ungarb.ggd@gao.gov

Sincerely yours,




Bernard L. Ungar
Director, Government Business
Operations Issues




Page 33                                           GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
Contents



Letter                                                                                       1


Appendix I                                                                                  36

VA Employee Travel
Appendix II                                                                                 45

Comments From the
Department of
Veterans Affairs
Tables               Table 1: VA Excess Travel Funds Reprogrammed From                      11
                       Fiscal Years 1993 Through 1998 (In nominal dollars)
                     Table 2: VA Excess Travel Funds Reprogrammed From                      11
                       Fiscal Year 1993 Through 1998 (In constant 1999
                       dollars)
                     Table 3: VA Officials With Delegated Travel Authority                  20
                     Table I.1: Fiscal Year 1993 VA Employee Travel                         36
                     Table I.2: Fiscal Year 1994 VA Employee Travel                         37
                     Table I.3: Fiscal Year 1995 VA Employee Travel                         38
                     Table I.4: Fiscal Year 1996 VA Employee Travel                         39
                     Table I.5: Fiscal Year 1997 VA Employee Travel                         40
                     Table I.6: Fiscal Year 1998 VA Employee Travel                         41
                     Table I.7: Fiscal Years 1999 and 2000 VA Employee                      42
                       Travel
                     Table I.8: Differences Between VA’s Travel Budget and                  42
                       Actual Expenditures From Fiscal Year 1993 to 1998 (In
                       nominal dollars)
                     Table I.9: Differences Between VA’s Travel Budget and                  43
                       Actual Expenditures From Fiscal Year 1993 to 1998 (In
                       constant 1999 dollars)
                     Table I.10: Differences Between VA’s Travel                            43
                       Appropriations and Actual Expenditures From Fiscal
                       Year 1993 to1998 (In nominal dollars)
                     Table I.11: Differences Between VA’s Travel                            44
                       Appropriations and Actual Expenditures From Fiscal
                       Year 1993 to 1998 (In constant 1999 dollars)




                     Page 34                                           GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
Contents




Abbreviations

FMFIA       Federal Managers' Financial Integrity Act
FTR         Federal Travel Regulation
GS          General Service
GSA         General Services Administration
JFMIP       Joint Financial Management Improvement Program
NCA         National Cemetery Administration
OIG         Office of the Inspector General
OMB         Office of Management and Budget
VA          Department of Veterans Affairs
VBA         Veterans Benefits Administration
VHA         Veterans Health Administration
VISN        Veterans Integrated Service Network


Page 35                                             GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
Appendix I

VA Employee Travel



Table I.1: Fiscal Year 1993 VA Employee Travel
                                                                              Fiscal year 1993
                                                (Nominal dollars)                                    (Constant 1999 dollars)
                                        a                      b
Accounts/Funds                   Budget           Appropriated       Actual               Budget           Appropriated              Actual
VHA
  Medical Care                  $30,046,000         $31,501,000     $30,557,000           $33,496,000          $35,118,000           $34,066,000
  Medical and Prosthetic
  Research                         2,719,000          2,807,000       1,420,000              3,031,000            3,129,000            1,583,000
  Medical Administration and
  Miscellaneous Operating
  Expenses                           843,000          1,191,000       1,100,000                940,000            1,328,000            1,226,000
General Operating Expenses
(includes Veterans Benefits
Administration (VBA)              13,299,000         13,079,000      12,048,000             14,826,000           14,581,000           13,431,000
National Cemetery Admin.             650,000            650,000         619,000                725,000              725,000              690,000
Office of Inspector General        2,429,000          2,425,000       1,990,000              2,708,000            2,703,000            2,219,000
Subtotal for Appropriations
Accounts                          49,986,000         51,653,000      47,734,000             55,726,000           57,584,000           53,215,000
Revolving funds:
Medical Care Cost Recovery
Fund (MCCR)                       2,160,000                           2,174,000             2,408,000                                  2,424,000
Supply Fund                       1,421,000                           1,817,000             1,584,000                                  2,026,000
Canteen Service                     875,000                             928,000               975,000                                  1,035,000
Subtotal for Revolving Funds      4,456,000                           4,919,000             4,967,000                                  5,485,000
Total travel                    $54,442,000         $51,653,000     $52,653,000           $60,693,000          $57,584,000           $58,700,000
                                            a
                                            As requested in the President's budget submission to Congress.
                                            b
                                            "Appropriated" refers to information VA provided to us on the amounts for travel included in its
                                            appropriations accounts after appropriations were enacted.
                                            Source: VA Budget Office.




                                            Page 36                                                                 GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                                            Appendix I
                                            VA Employee Travel




Table I.2: Fiscal Year 1994 VA Employee Travel
                                                                             Fiscal year 1994
                                                (Nominal dollars)                                       (Constant 1999 dollars)
                                        a                      b
Accounts/Funds                   Budget           Appropriated          Actual                Budget         Appropriated       Actual
VHA
  Medical Care                   $33,240,000        $33,240,000         $31,939,000           $36,170,000        $36,170,000         $34,754,000
  Medical and Prosthetic
  Research                         2,723,000           2,153,000           2,177,000             2,963,000          2,343,000          2,369,000
  Medical Administration and
  Miscellaneous Operating
  Expenses                         1,293,000           1,113,000             817,000             1,407,000          1,211,000             889,000
General Operating Expenses
(includes VBA)                    10,834,000          13,401,000         10,708,000            11,789,000          14,582,000         11,652,000
National Cemetery Admin.             585,000             585,000            555,000               637,000             637,000            604,000
Office of Inspector General        2,405,000           2,105,000          1,618,000             2,617,000           2,291,000          1,761,000
Subtotal for Appropriations
Accounts                          51,080,000          52,597,000         47,814,000            55,583,000          57,234,000         52,029,000
Revolving funds:
MCCR                               2,330,000                              1,751,000             2,535,000                              1,905,000
Supply Fund                        1,063,000                              1,707,000             1,157,000                              1,857,000
Canteen Service                      800,000                                688,000               871,000                                749,000
Subtotal for Revolving Funds       4,193,000                              4,146,000             4,563,000                              4,511,000
Total travel                     $55,273,000        $52,597,000         $51,960,000           $60,146,000        $57,234,000         $56,540,000
                                            a
                                            As requested in the President's budget submission to Congress.
                                            b
                                            "Appropriated" refers to information VA provided to us on the amounts for travel included in its
                                            appropriations accounts after appropriations were enacted.
                                            Source: VA Budget Office.




                                            Page 37                                                                 GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                                            Appendix I
                                            VA Employee Travel




Table I.3: Fiscal Year 1995 VA Employee Travel
                                                                             Fiscal year 1995
                                                (Nominal dollars)                                       (Constant 1999 dollars)
                                        a                      b
Accounts/Funds                   Budget           Appropriated           Actual               Budget       Appropriated         Actual
VHA
  Medical Care                   $40,000,000          $40,275,000       $35,925,000           $42,508,000        $42,800,000         $38,177,000
  Medical and Prosthetic
  Research                         1,803,000            2,153,000          1,724,000             1,916,000          2,288,000          1,832,000
  Medical Administration and
  Miscellaneous Operating
  Expenses                         1,200,000             795,000             823,000             1,275,000            845,000             875,000
General Operating Expenses
(includes VBA)                    13,502,000           14,182,000        12,619,000            14,349,000          15,071,000         13,410,000
National Cemetery Admin.             650,000              650,000           632,000               691,000             691,000            672,000
Office of Inspector General        2,099,000            1,857,000         1,632,000             2,231,000           1,973,000          1,734,000
Subtotal for Appropriations
Accounts                          59,254,000           59,912,000        53,355,000            62,670,000          63,668,000         56,700,000
Revolving funds:
MCCR                               2,400,000                              1,758,000             2,550,000                              1,868,000
Supply Fund                        1,455,000                              1,455,000             1,546,000                              1,546,000
Canteen Service                      900,000                                645,000               956,000                                685,000
Subtotal for Revolving Funds       4,755,000                              3,858,000             5,052,000                              4,099,000
Total travel                     $64,009,000          $59,912,000       $57,213,000           $68,022,000        $63,668,000         $60,799,000
                                            a
                                            As requested in the President's budget submission to Congress.
                                            b
                                            "Appropriated" refers to information VA provided to us on the amounts for travel included in its
                                            appropriations accounts after appropriations were enacted.
                                            Source: VA Budget Office.




                                            Page 38                                                                 GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                                           Appendix I
                                           VA Employee Travel




Table I.4: Fiscal Year 1996 VA Employee Travel
                                                                            Fiscal year 1996
                                               (Nominal dollars)                                       (Constant 1999 dollars)
                                       a                      b
Accounts/Funds                  Budget           Appropriated           Actual               Budget       Appropriated         Actual
VHA
  Medical Care                  $50,000,000          $50,000,000       $30,628,000           $52,138,000        $52,138,000         $31,937,000
  Medical and Prosthetic
  Research                       $2,153,000            2,900,000          1,540,000             2,245,000          3,024,000          1,606,000
  Medical Administration and
  Miscellaneous Operating
  Expenses                          826,000             426,000             566,000               861,000            444,000             590,000
General Operating Expenses
(includes VBA)                   16,093,000           12,412,000          8,916,000           16,781,000          12,943,000          9,297,000
National Cemetery Admin.            680,000              600,000            467,000              709,000             626,000            487,000
Office of Inspector General       1,859,000            1,690,000          1,519,000            1,938,000           1,762,000          1,584,000
Subtotal for Appropriations
Accounts                         71,611,000           68,028,000        43,636,000            74,672,000          70,937,000         45,501,000
Revolving funds:
MCCR                              2,778,000                              2,610,000             2,897,000                              2,722,000
Supply Fund                       2,082,000                              1,910,000             2,171,000                              1,992,000
Canteen Service                   1,000,000                                943,000             1,043,000                                983,000
Subtotal for Revolving Funds      5,860,000                              5,463,000             6,111,000                              5,697,000
Total travel                    $77,471,000          $68,028,000       $49,099,000           $80,783,000        $70,936,000         $51,198,000
                                           a
                                           As requested in the President's budget submission to Congress.
                                           b
                                           "Appropriated" refers to information VA provided to us on the amounts for travel included in its
                                           appropriations accounts after appropriations were enacted.
                                           Source: VA Budget Office.




                                           Page 39                                                                 GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                                           Appendix I
                                           VA Employee Travel




Table I.5: Fiscal Year 1997 VA Employee Travel
                                                                              Fiscal year 1997
                                                (Nominal dollars)                                      (Constant 1999 dollars)
                                       a                       b
Accounts/Funds                  Budget            Appropriated            Actual              Budget      Appropriated         Actual
VHA
  Medical Care                  $51,365,000           $51,365,000        $41,380,000          $52,574,000       $52,574,000         $42,354,000
  Medical and Prosthetic
  Research                        1,701,000              2,153,000          1,961,000           1,741,000          2,204,000          2,007,000
  Medical Administration and
  Miscellaneous Operating
  Expenses                          878,000                700,000            713,000             899,000            716,000             730,000
General Operating Expenses
(includes VBA)                   11,568,000             11,361,000          9,924,000          11,840,000         11,628,000         10,158,000
National Cemetery Admin.            630,000                592,000            582,000             645,000            606,000            596,000
Office of Inspector General       1,434,000              1,461,000          1,590,000           1,468,000          1,495,000          1,627,000
Subtotal for Appropriations
Accounts                         67,576,000             67,632,000        56,150,000           69,167,000         69,223,000         57,472,000
Revolving funds:
MCCR                              2,873,000                                2,560,000            2,941,000                             2,620,000
Supply Fund                       2,082,000                                1,919,000            2,131,000                             1,964,000
                c
Franchise Fund                    2,000,000                                  504,000            2,047,000                               516,000
Canteen Service                   1,000,000                                  905,000            1,024,000                               926,000
Subtotal for Revolving Funds      7,955,000                                5,888,000            8,143,000                             6,026,000
Total travel                    $75,531,000           $67,632,000        $62,038,000          $77,309,000       $69,223,000         $63,498,000
                                           a
                                               As requested in the President's budget submission to Congress.
                                           b
                                           "Appropriated" refers to information VA provided to us on the amounts for travel included in its
                                           appropriations accounts after appropriations were enacted.
                                           c
                                               VA's franchise fund was established in 1997.
                                           Source: VA Budget Office.




                                           Page 40                                                                 GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                                           Appendix I
                                           VA Employee Travel




Table I.6: Fiscal Year 1998 VA Employee Travel
                                                                              Fiscal year 1998
                                                (Nominal dollars)                                      (Constant 1999 dollars)
                                       a                       b
Accounts/Funds                  Budget            Appropriated           Actual               Budget      Appropriated         Actual
VHA
  Medical Care                  $51,691,000           $54,599,000        $45,402,000          $52,266,000        $55,206,000         $45,907,000
  Medical and Prosthetic
                                                                                      c
  Research                        1,750,000              2,031,000         2,119,000            1,769,000           2,054,000           2,143,000
  Medical Administration and
  Miscellaneous Operating
  Expenses                          903,000                903,000           764,000               913,000            913,000             772,000
General Operating Expenses
(includes VBA)                   10,681,000             11,624,000        11,322,000           10,800,000          11,753,000         11,448,000
National Cemetery Admin.            625,000                625,000           583,000              632,000             632,000            589,000
Office of Inspector General       1,574,000              1,616,000         1,808,000            1,592,000           1,634,000          1,828,000
Subtotal for Appropriations
Accounts                         67,224,000             71,398,000        61,998,000           67,972,000          72,192,000         62,687,000
Revolving funds:
                                                                                      d                                                              c
MCCR                              2,908,000                                                     2,940,000
Supply Fund                       3,778,000                                2,467,000            3,820,000                              2,494,000
Franchise Fund                    2,539,000                                  552,000            2,567,000                                558,000
Canteen Service                   1,000,000                                  969,000            1,011,000                                980,000
Subtotal for Revolving Funds     10,225,000                                3,988,000           10,338,000                              4,032,000
Total travel                    $77,449,000           $71,398,000        $65,986,000          $78,310,000        $72,192,000         $66,719,000
                                           a
                                               As requested in the President's budget submission to Congress.
                                           b
                                           "Appropriated" refers to information VA provided to us on the amounts for travel included in its
                                           appropriations accounts after appropriations were enacted.
                                           c
                                            According to VA officials, the amount actually expended for travel in fiscal year 1998 “Medical and
                                           Prosthetic Research” appropriations account includes unobligated amounts from the 1997
                                           Appropriations Act for travel, which are available for obligation for 2 years. Therefore, based on this
                                           information, VA’s expenditures for that purpose in fiscal year 1998 did not exceed the applicable
                                           ceiling on employee travel in the 1998 Appropriations Act.
                                           d
                                           Starting in fiscal year 1998, MCCR was terminated and the Medical Care Collections Fund was
                                           established.
                                           Source: VA Budget Office.




                                           Page 41                                                                  GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                                            Appendix I
                                            VA Employee Travel




Table I.7: Fiscal Years 1999 and 2000 VA Employee Travel
                                                                  Fiscal year 1999                                    Fiscal year 2000
                                                               (In nominal dollars)                                 (In nominal dollars)
                                                                a                            b                                    a
Accounts/Funds                                            Budget                Appropriated                              Budget
VHA
 Medical Care                                                 $55,143,000                   $55,143,000                          $55,143,000
 Medical and Prosthetic Research                                2,137,000                     2,244,000                            3,102,000
 Medical Administration and Miscellaneous
 Operating Expenses                                               923,000                       969,000                             1,400,000
General Operating Expenses (includes VBA)                      12,254,000                    15,746,000                            18,651,000
National Cemetery Admin.                                          795,000                       795,000                               947,000
Office of Inspector General                                     1,766,000                     2,085,000                             2,271,000
Subtotal for Appropriations Accounts                           73,018,000                    76,982,000                            81,514,000
Revolving funds:
Supply Fund                                                     3,891,000                                                           3,800,000
Franchise Fund                                                    664,000                                                             869,000
Canteen Service                                                 1,000,000                                                           1,000,000
Subtotal for Revolving Funds                                    5,555,000                                                           5,669,000
Total travel                                                  $78,573,000                   $76,982,000                            87,183,000
                                            a
                                            As requested in the President’s budget submission to Congress.
                                            b
                                            "Appropriated" refers to information VA provided to us on the amounts for travel included in its
                                            appropriations accounts after appropriations were enacted.
                                            Source: VA Budget Office.




Table I.8: Differences Between VA’s Travel Budget and Actual Expenditures From Fiscal Year 1993 to 1998 (In nominal dollars)
                                                                               Difference between
                                                                                budget and actual
                                                 a
Fiscal year                               Budget      Actual expenditures             expenditures    Percentage difference
1993                                  $49,986,000             $47,734,000               $2,252,000                       4.5
1994                                   51,080,000              47,814,000                3,266,000                       6.4
1995                                   59,254,000              53,355,000                5,899,000                      10.0
1996                                   71,611,000              43,636,000               27,975,000                      39.1
1997                                   67,576,000              56,150,000               11,426,000                      16.9
1998                                   67,224,000              61,998,000                5,226,000                       7.8
                                                                         b
1999                                   73,018,000
                                                                         b
2000                                  $81,514,000
                                            Note: This table excludes VA’s four revolving funds: Canteen Service, Franchise Fund, MCCR, and
                                            Supply Fund.
                                            a
                                            As requested in the President's budget submission to Congress.
                                            b
                                            Fiscal years 1999 and 2000 actual expenditures not yet available.
                                            Source: VA Budget Office and GAO calculations of differences.




                                            Page 42                                                                 GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                                          Appendix I
                                          VA Employee Travel




Table I.9: Differences Between VA’s Travel Budget and Actual Expenditures From Fiscal Year 1993 to 1998 (In constant 1999
dollars)
                                                                               Difference between
                                                                                budget and actual
                                                 a
Fiscal year                               Budget      Actual expenditures             expenditures    Percentage difference
1993                                  $55,726,000             $53,215,000               $2,511,000                        4.5
1994                                   55,582,000              52,028,000                3,554,000                        6.4
1995                                   62,969,000              56,700,000                6,269,000                      10.0
1996                                   74,673,000              45,502,000               29,171,000                      39.1
1997                                   69,167,000              57,472,000               11,695,000                      16.9
1998                                   67,972,000              62,688,000                5,284,000                        7.8
                                                                         b
1999                                   73,018,000
                                                                         b
2000                                  $81,514,000
                                          Note: This table excludes VA’s four revolving funds: Canteen Service, Franchise Fund, MCCR, and
                                          Supply Fund.
                                          a
                                           As requested in the President's budget submission to Congress.
                                          b
                                           Fiscal years 1999 and 2000 actual expenditures not yet available.
                                          Source: VA Budget Office and GAO calculations of differences.




Table I.10: Differences Between VA’s Travel Appropriations and Actual Expenditures From Fiscal Year 1993 to1998 (In nominal
dollars)
                                                                                Difference between
                                                                            appropriated and actual
                                                 a
Fiscal year                         Appropriated       Actual expenditures             expenditures   Percentage difference
1993                                  $51,653,000              $47,734,000               $3,919,000                      7.6
1994                                   52,597,000               47,814,000                4,783,000                      9.1
1995                                   59,912,000               53,355,000                6,557,000                     10.9
1996                                   68,028,000               43,636,000               24,392,000                     35.9
1997                                   67,632,000               56,150,000               11,482,000                     17.0
1998                                   71,398,000               61,998,000                9,400,000                     13.2
                                                                          b
1999                                  $76,982,000
                                          Note: This table excludes VA’s four revolving funds: Canteen Service, Franchise Fund, MCCR, and
                                          Supply Fund.
                                          a
                                          "Appropriated" refers to information VA provided to us on the amounts for travel included in its
                                          appropriations accounts after appropriations were enacted.
                                          b
                                           Fiscal year 1999 actual expenditures not yet available.
                                          Source: VA Budget Office and GAO calculations of differences.




                                          Page 43                                                                 GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
                                          Appendix I
                                          VA Employee Travel




Table I.11: Differences Between VA’s Travel Appropriations and Actual Expenditures From Fiscal Year 1993 to 1998 (In
constant 1999 dollars)
                                                                                Difference between
                                                                            appropriated and actual
                                                 a
Fiscal year                         Appropriated       Actual expenditures             expenditures   Percentage difference
1993                                  $57,584,000              $53,215,000               $4,369,000                      7.6
1994                                   57,233,000               52,028,000                5,205,000                      9.1
1995                                   63,668,000               56,700,000                6,968,000                     10.9
1996                                   70,936,000               45,502,000               25,434,000                     35.9
1997                                   69,224,000               57,472,000               11,752,000                     17.0
1998                                   72,192,000               62,688,000                9,504,000                     13.2
                                                                          b
1999                                  $76,982,000
                                          Note: This table excludes VA’s four revolving funds: Canteen Service, Franchise Fund, MCCR, and
                                          Supply Fund.
                                          a
                                          "Appropriated" refers to information VA provided to us on the amounts for travel included in its
                                          appropriations accounts after appropriations were enacted.
                                          b
                                          Fiscal year 1999 actual expenditures not yet available.
                                          Source: VA Budget Office and GAO calculations of differences.




                                          Page 44                                                                 GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
Appendix II

Comments From the Department of Veterans
Affairs




              Page 45           GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
Appendix II
Comments From the Department of Veterans Affairs




Page 46                                            GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
Appendix II
Comments From the Department of Veterans Affairs




Page 47                                            GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
Appendix II
Comments From the Department of Veterans Affairs




Page 48                                            GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
Appendix II
Comments From the Department of Veterans Affairs




Page 49                                            GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
Appendix II
Comments From the Department of Veterans Affairs




Page 50                                            GAO/GGD-99-137 VA Travel
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