February 21, 2014

IRS Senior Execs Took Improper Tax Deductions

Career senior executives at the Internal Revenue Service improperly claimed non-taxable revenue on travel expenses, despite receiving adequate instructions from the agency, according to a newly-released audit.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said in a report published Tuesday that some IRS executives were not properly classifying their travel as “long-term taxable travel,” or LTTT. When employees travel to a single location for more than one year, or perform their principal duties away from their “official station” for an indefinite amount of time, they are required to pay taxes on any travel-related reimbursements they receive.

To conduct the review, the IG’s office took a sample of 31 IRS senior executives who could have qualified for LTTT in fiscal years 2011 and 2012. The auditors found nine managers -- or about 30 percent -- incorrectly reported their expenses as nontaxable, while three employees did not submit their records in a timely fashion. The average travel reimbursement for these employees was $51,420.

Despite providing guidance to its employees, the IRS must do a better job following up on documentation to ensure compliance, the IG’s office said. “The IRS has established adequate guidance defining when travel is taxable and employees’ and managers’ responsibility to make that determination,” the auditors wrote. “However, the guidance was not consistently followed.”

The IG recommended the IRS chief financial officer inform or remind employees of the policies related to LTTT. IRS officials agreed with the report’s findings and will implement the recommended changes.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel, Miscellaneous | Permalink

February 19, 2014

Travel spending drops 18 percent in 2013

Federal travel spending fell 18 percent from fiscal 2012 to 2013 — from $8.5 billion to about $6.9 billion — and 2014 is shaping up to see even deeper cuts, according to federal data.

Travel spending in fiscal 2014 is already down about 33 percent from the same time last year at $890 million, compared to $1.3 billion, as measured by data from the General Services Administration’s SmartPay charge card program, which covers more than 2.5 million card holders across the government.

As examples of the cutbacks, GSA has canceled, for the second year, its annual Expo conference and has transitioned its SmartPay training forum into a virtual format, citing continued low levels of spending on travels and conferences.

Frank Benenati, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said part of the drop can be attributed to agencies rethinking how and where to have conferences and by using technology to reduce the need for travel. “Agencies will continue to identify savings moving forward, while balancing the need for conferences and travel,” Benenati said.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink

November 19, 2013

House Ethics Committee ends Peter Roskam, Bill Owens reviews

The House Ethics Committee will end its reviews into whether Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) violated congressional rules during privately funded trips to Taiwan. However, the secretive panel found that Owens’ December 2011 trip to Taiwan was an improper gift because a New York lobbying firm was closely involved in putting the excursion together.  But because Owens has already repaid the $22,000-plus cost of the trip, he will not be sanctioned by the Ethics Committee.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, the independent ethics watchdog, had called for broader probes into both Roskam and Owens. The Ethics Committee did not agree to those requests. The Ethics Committee looked into whether Roskam, a top member of the House GOP leadership, accepted an impermissible gift when he and Elizabeth Roskam traveled to Taiwan in October 2011. The Ethics Committee approved the Roskams’ trip beforehand, but OCE believed the Taiwanese government and not the Chinese Culture University — the official sponsor — “was conducting and organizing his trip.”

Under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act, foreign governments are allowed to pay for such trips. However, a lawmaker cannot accept travel expenses for a spouse or family member. The Roskams’ daughter was also staying in Taiwan at that time, and OCE noted that the Roskams sought to include her as part of their itinerary for the $24,000-plus trip.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Gifts, Issues: Travel | Permalink

December 12, 2011

2011 Travel Regulations Update: Presentation Material

Here is the power point presentation from Lenny Loewentritt's December 1, 2011, Travel Regulations Update presentation.  Download 2011 IEC Travel Presentation

Posted by Account Deleted in IEC Meetings, Issues: Travel | Permalink

November 15, 2011

Presidential Executive Order: PROMOTING EFFICIENT SPENDING

On Nov. 9, 2011, the President signed an executive order to promote efficient spending in the Executive Branch.  See EO at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/11/09/executive-order-promoting-efficient-spending.  The EO is part of the Campaign to Cut Waste, and coincided with the announcement of the 2011 SAVE Award finalist.  See WH press release: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/11/09/we-cant-wait-president-obama-sign-executive-order-cut-waste-and-promote-.

Within 45 days, agencies must develop plans to reduce combined costs in the following areas to 20 percent below Fiscal Year 2010 levels by Fiscal Year 2013.

  1. Reduce Spending on Travel and Conferences.
  2. Cut Duplicative and Unnecessary Employee Information Technology Devices
  3. End Unnecessary Printing and Put It Online
  4. Limit Motor Vehicles
  5. Stop Swag – or Government Promotional Handouts

Posted by Account Deleted in Fiscal Law, Issues: Misuse of Govt. Resources, Issues: Travel, Miscellaneous, News | Permalink

October 14, 2011

Ex-Fed pleads guilty to misuse of Govt Travel funds

A former civilian employee of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), a component of the Department of Defense, pleaded guilty today in Washington, D.C., to making more than $485,000 in false travel claims.  See full DOJ press release at http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2011/October/11-crm-1358.html.

Posted by Account Deleted in Issues: Travel, News | Permalink

August 20, 2011

VA OIG Alleges Improper Commute Pay

The Center for Public Integrity reports on a Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General report concerning high ranking officials who were reimbursed for commuting by plane:
This travel fraud happened because administrators at the highest levels of the VA allowed it to. In all three cases, the VA's frequent flyers chose to live far from Washington, even though their "duty station," the office they were supposed to report to, or much of the work they were responsible for, was in Washington, D.C. To be reimbursed for their airfare, hotels, and other expenses, they had to qualify for "official travel status." That means that every time they flew to D.C., their supervisors had to approve the trip.

That's apparently not very hard to secure. "Theoretically, someone has to sign off on [official travel requests]," said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. "But what that person requires, and what that agency requires, is pretty loose."

Most federal travel is largely governed by the "honor code," according to Light. "Some travelers either don't have a sense of what's required or aren't required to file anything."

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink

Gift/Travel Reimbursement Reporting Changes

OGE Legal Advisory LA-11-05 describes a change in the rules on gifts and travel reimbursement reporting thresholds. 

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Gifts, Issues: Travel | Permalink

July 07, 2011

IG investigation into Defense Education Agency Director

The Inspector General for the Department of Defense substantiated multiple charges against the DoD Education Agency's former Director, including violations of the Joint Ethics Regulation and standards of conduct.  See Federal Times article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20110630/DEPARTMENTS01/106300306/1049/PERSONNEL and IG redacted report at: http://www.dodig.mil/fo/Foia/PDFs/MilesROIforreleaseRedacted.pdf.

Posted by Account Deleted in Inspectors General, Issues: Misuse of Govt. Resources, Issues: Misuse of Position, Issues: Travel, News | Permalink

December 02, 2010

GSA Travel Rules Presentation Materials (Dec. 2010)

Here is the power point presentation from Lenny Loewentritt's presentation on updates to the various travel regulations of importance to ethics officials.  Download 2010 IEC Travel Presentation (GSA)

Posted by Account Deleted in IEC Meetings, Issues: Travel | Permalink

November 09, 2010

DOJ IG report on US Attorney travel practies (Nov. 2010)

The report found most U.S. Attorney's followed the rules and per diem limits.  For the small number of U.S. Attorneys, who routinely exceeded the government rate, the IG found they did so by large amounts, with insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification.  See full report at http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/plus/o1011.pdf.

See also http://www.mainjustice.com/2010/11/08/inspector-general-report-targets-u-s-attorney-travel-costs/print/

Posted by Account Deleted in Inspectors General, Issues: Misuse of Govt. Resources, Issues: Travel | Permalink

November 01, 2010

Senator Questions Actions Against Ethics Office

A press release from Senator Grassley begins as follows:

Sen. Chuck Grassley is expressing concern over whether the National Cancer Institute unfairly disciplined its ethics director for trying to make sure agency travel complies with federal law and procedures, including those set by the institute’s parent agency, the National Institutes of Health.  The travel at issue is sponsored by non-government sources, such as corporations and other private entities.

Senator Grassley's letter on the same topic has more information.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel, News | Permalink

October 26, 2010

Former GSA official pleads guilty

A former GSA official, Daniel Voll, pleaded guilty to embezzling taxpayer money, incuring over $10,000 in expenses of a purely personal nature on his Govt credit card at various luxury hotels, dining and spa establishments, and then falsely representing them as legitimate business expenses.  He was sentenced to 3 months in prison as well as one year probation and was fined $100,000.  See DOJ Press Release at http://www.justice.gov/usao/can/press/2010/2010_04_01_voll.guiltyplea.press.html.

Additional details can be found on JunketSleuth.com a new website tracking Government Travel expenses.

Posted by Account Deleted in Issues: Misuse of Govt. Resources, Issues: Travel, News | Permalink

December 08, 2009

DoD IG found former official abused travel polices

Former deputy Pentagon policy chief Christopher Ryan Henry routinely violated Defense Department travel policies to reap personal gain — including ski resort getaways and limousine rentals — and eventually repaid the government nearly $17,500, according to the Pentagon's inspector general.

See full article at http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20091204/TRAVEL02/912040302/-1/RSS.

Posted by Team 2 in Issues: Travel | Permalink

June 11, 2009

Pentagon Acceptance of Free Trips

An Associated Press story discusses ethical implications of Pentagon officials accepting gifts of travel from from foreign countries, trade groups and companies with an interest in shaping policies or doing business with the U.S. military. The Center for Public Integrity broke the story and set up a database to facilitate tracking such travel in a joint project with Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Thanks to Paul Bergstrand for the tip.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink

May 26, 2009

Proactive on Transit Subsidy?

Do all employees in your agency understand the rules concerning the commuter subsidy paid to federal employees?  This question is all the more important because the American American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided a large increase in benefits through Jan. 1, 2011. Including this topic in your ethics training could prove useful. The Department of Transportation's TranServe website has information on transit subsidy rules.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink

May 13, 2009

Subisdizing Attendance At Awards Ceremonies

When can the government subsidize attendance at an awards ceremony? Air Force lawyer Mark Stone provides a number of Department of Defense and Air Force references in his e-mail newsletter, as well as the following other authorities:

  • 70 Comp. Gen. 440, B-241987, April 25, 1991 (spouse travel to attend an award ceremony)

  • 69 Comp. Gen. 38, B-233607, Oct. 26, 1989 (spouse travel to attend an award ceremony)

  • 55 Comp. Gen. 1332 (1976) (travel to accept an award from a non-Federal organization)

  • 5 USC 4503 (awards by Federal agencies to Federal employees)

  • GAO guide, Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, Third Edition, Jan. 2004, Volume I, page 4-167. [The March 2009 update to the guide does not have guidance on this issue.]

Contact Mr. Stone to be added to his mailing list (address disguised to throw off automated address-gathering software used by spammers): mark_dot_ stone--AT--wpafb _dot_af_dot_mil.

The Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) ethics website (registration required) has more ethics information:

http://afmcethics.wpafb.af.mil

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Fiscal Law, Issues: Travel | Permalink

May 14, 2008

Key May Due Date Reminders

May 15 is the filing deadline for certain SF 278s that are sent to OGE for final review and certification. DAEOgram DO-08-018 has details. Extensions are possible.

May 27 is the deadline to submit comments on the FAR Council's proposal on addressing service contractor employees' personal conflicts of interest in light of the concerns raised by OGE, the findings of a GAO report, the recommendations of the Services Acquisition Reform Act panel, two recent FAR cases (2006-07 and 2007-06), and some agency approaches to the issue. under 31 U.S.C. § 1353. DAEOgram DO-08-017 has more information.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Contractors in the Workplace, Issues: Financial Disclosure, Issues: Travel, OGE | Permalink

February 09, 2008

Get Comfy in Coach

Brian Friel of Government Executive offers his views on OMB's Jan. 8 memo restricting federal premium travel.  Our previous post has links to the memo and related documents. Friel's bottom line:

A year earlier, GAO noted that the State Department, as well as other agencies, treats first-class travel as a morale-boosting perk. "The tone set by top State Department executives indicate that it treats premium-class as an employee benefit regardless of cost and federal law and regulation," GAO reported in September 2006. GAO's latest report called that approach into question across government.

Now, the jig is up. Human resources officials could come up with lots of reasons that executives and managers benefit from traveling in the front of the plane. But it doesn't matter. In this case, Congress and the White House don't want government to be more like business.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink

February 01, 2008

Premium Travel Policies

A lawyer with a small federal agency had a question about implementing OMB's new policy on premium travel:

We're in the process of evaluating our current practices.  I'm working to define "rest period," and advising on the development of clearer guidance for when agency mission criteria and intent call for premium class travel.  I'm curious to know how other agencies are handling this.  If you have any leads on how other agencies are approaching these issues, I'd appreciate learning about it.

If you have implemented a policy on this at your agency that you can share, send it to us via the Contact Us link on the left.  We'd love to distribute it. One of the reasons for this site is to increase the efficiency of ethics administration. It makes no sense for scores or hundreds of federal agency lawyers to duplicate each other's work.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink

January 15, 2008

More On New Travel Rule

Since the impermanent links at the GSA web site are hard to use, we have uploaded the text of the Consolidated Appropriations Bill, 2008 (1.5 MB PDF file) as a convenience to our readers.

Two readers had insightful follow-up comments on our previous post about the bill:

Michael Wolf noted:

In your posting "Restriction on Certain Section 1353 Travel Reimbursements" (January 10, 2008), you state that the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 "imposes significant restrictions on the acceptance of 31 USC 1353 travel reimbursements by regulatory agencies. Section 620 of Division D of the Act provides that ‘no … regulatory agency or commission funded by this Act may accept payment or reimbursement from a non-Federal entity for travel … [from] a person or entity subject to regulation by such agency or commission…’"

The application of this restriction is narrower than it may appear at first glance. It does not apply to regulatory agencies government-wide.

Section 3 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 states:

Sec. 3. REFERENCES

Except as expressly provided otherwise, any reference to "this Act" contained in any division of this

Act shall be treated as referring only to the provisions of that division.

Therefore, the restrictions on the acceptance of travel payments under 31 USC 1353 in Section 620 of Division D apply only to those agencies and commissions that are funded by Division D, "funded by this Act" (unlike, for example, the anti-lobbying provision in section 720 of Division D which has government-wide application because it says "this or any other act." )

Another knowledgeable commenter agreed and went on to note that the lack of a definition of "regulatory agency" could lead to some confusion in interpreting the statute.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink

January 14, 2008

New OMB Rules on Premium Air Travel

OMB has issued new guidance on federal traveler use of premium airline services, in response to September's GAO critical report. Government Executive has details. The key parts of the proposal, to be implemented "immediately":

  • Require that premium class travel requests for all agency personnel, including senior-level executives be approved by an individual at least at the same level as the traveler, or by an office designated to approve premium class travel;
  • Develop and issue internal guidance that explains when mission criteria and intent call for premium class accommodations;
  • Define what constitutes a rest period;
  • Require annual certifications of a disability, unless such disability is lifelong;
  • Restrict premium class travel for both temporary duty and permanent change of station travel (relocations) when the employee is not required to report to duty the following day; and,
  • Prohibit blanket travel authorizations for premium class travel, unless the traveler has a certification of disability.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in GAO, Issues: Travel | Permalink

January 10, 2008

Restriction on Certain Section 1353 Travel Reimbursements

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, Public Law 110-161 (H.R. 2764) signed by the President on December 26, 2007, imposes a significant restriction on the acceptance of 31 USC 1353 travel reimbursements by regulatory agencies. Section 620 of Division D of the Act provides that “no ... regulatory agency or commission funded by this Act may accept payment or reimbursement from a non-Federal entity for travel ... [from] a person or entity subject to regulation by such agency or commission ... unless such person or entity is an organization exempt from taxation pursuant to section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.”  Affected agencies should consult the full language of the Act and the corresponding explanatory statement submitted by the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Posted by PJC in Issues: Travel | Permalink

November 14, 2007

Accepting Promotional Benefits

Standards of Conduct Counselors so often find themselves in the role of heavy, delivering bad news. How would you like to deliver some good news for a change?

On returning from Lenny Loewentritt's excellent briefing on travel at yesterday's IEC meeting (slides available here), I tried a little experiment. About 40% of the employees in my agency that I queried were not aware that federal employees can now accept promotional items like frequent flier miles, upgrades, access to airline clubs or facilities. Many employees remember the old rule that barred acceptance of such benefits, and are not aware that it was changed in 2002 by Section 1116 of Pub. L. 107-107, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2002.

If your agency is like mine, a little employee awareness-raising may be in order.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink

November 08, 2007

Slides for Loewentritt Travel Presentation

Lenny Loewentritt has been kind enough to provide us a copy of the slides he will use for his November 13 presentation on travel issues. Topics to be covered include:

  • Acceptance of travel payments (very timely in view of recent news stories)
  • Promotional items
  • Use of the charge card
  • Airline city pairs contract
  • Appropriate use of a rental car while on TDY

Join us next Tuesday for this always educational and entertaining look at the world of ethics travel issues.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink

November 07, 2007

Reporting Payments from Non-Federal Sources: OGE Guidance & News Reports

OGE has issued additional guidance concerning required semiannual reports of payments for travel, subsistence and related expenses received from non-Federal sources in connection with the attendance of employees at certain meetings or similar functions (31 U.S.C. § 1353). The guidance clarifies the OGE role:

OGE is responsible for making the information provided by the agencies available to the public. It is each agency’s responsibility to file the accurate and complete reports and to make the appropriate conflict of interest analysis. (See 68 Federal Register 12602-12610 published March 17, 2003.)

Such payments to federal employees has been a hot topic in the Washington Post, which published feature stories about problems at the Consumer Products Safety Commission on  November 2, November 3 and November 6, as well as a November 3 editorial. The November 2 article attracted 338 public comments, a large number, before the Post editors closed it to additional comments.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Conflicts of Interest, Issues: Financial Disclosure, Issues: Outside Activities, Issues: Travel | Permalink

September 16, 2007

More on Travel Standards

Thanks Ethan Carrier to for pointing out that USA Today posted a correction to travel reimbursement story referenced here earlier. Federal Times published Ira Kate's letter about the version of the same story.

Download USA Today notice
Download Kaye letter to Federal Times

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink

September 12, 2007

Travel Reimbursement Rules in the News

Federal Times reproduces a USA Today story about federal agency acceptance of travel reimbursements from outside sources:

Under federal law, it is permissible for corporations and interest groups to give free trips to executive branch agencies as long as there is no conflict of interest. But the definition of a conflict, laid out in regulations, is vague enough that some agencies will only accept trips from nonprofit foundations and universities, while others sign off on travel funded by vendors and trade groups.
“Just because lawyers are approving trips doesn’t mean officials should be taking them,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan watchdog group.
The end of the story quotes several experts:

Jan Witold Baran, an ethics law expert at Washington firm Wiley Rein, said agencies that allow such trips are under “a burden to explain the inconsistencies with the way other agencies may review these requests.”
The rules say an agency should not accept payment for travel if it “would cause a reasonable person ... to question the integrity of agency programs or operations.” In evaluating that, an agency should consider whether the sponsor has a pending matter in front of the agency, whether the traveler has influence over that matter, and the nature of the trip.
Ira Kaye, senior counsel for ethics at the Treasury Department, said the rules envision a conflict only if the sponsor has a matter pending before the traveler, not the agency. And, “it is not impossible that ... the deciding official could accept the offer even if there were a pending matter.”
Baran noted that members of Congress sometimes criticize agencies for spending money on conferences. “It’s a no-win situation,” he said. “If they use tax money, they get hammered for spending tax money, and if they accept private funding, they get hammered for potential conflict of interest.”
Federal Times also posted a related story. Thanks to Cary Williams for the tip about these articles.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink

May 18, 2005

GSA Issues Final Rule Clarifying Provisions of Federal Travel Regulation

Today, the General Services Administration (GSA) issued a final rule in the Federal Register amending the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) by clarifying certain provisions related to temporary duty (TDY) travel.  For example, "premium class" travel is replaced by "first-class" and/or "business-class" travel depending upon the provision changed; and a definition of "coach class" is added.  Review the changes here. Download ftr_amendment_fed. Reg. 05-9893.pdf

Posted by Karen Grosso in Issues: Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 05, 2005

More on Comp Time for Travel

Stephen Barr's Federal Diary has more information on the new comp time for travel rules noted here earlier.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 09, 2004

Personal Use of Rental Car while TDY: Limits Illustrated

The GSBCA offered another illustration recently of when Government employees become personally liable for rental car expenses used during official travel.

   In the Matter of Tassos Abadiotakis, GSBCA 16477-TRAV decided on October 13, 2004 (found at www.gsbca.gsa.gov/travel/u1647713.pdf) the Board found that the employee was personally liable for damages to a rental car, which was rented for official travel purposes, when the car encountered an elk.  The Board noted that the employee's temporary duty ended on Friday, but he kept the rental car for personal purposes before returning to his duty station on Sunday.  The accident occured early Sunday.  The Board concluded:  "After Friday, when his temporary duty ended, the rental car was both an expense and responsibility of Mr. Abadiotakis, not the Government."

Posted by SE in Issues: Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack