DOD Travel Cards:

Control Weaknesses Led to Millions in Fraud, Waste, and Improper Payments

GAO-04-825T: Published: Jun 9, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 9, 2004.

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In November 2003, GAO testified on the significant level of improper premium class travel purchased with centrally billed accounts. These findings led to concerns over the Department of Defense's (DOD) overall management of the centrally billed account program. At the request of this Committee, Senator Grassley, and Representative Schakowsky, GAO performed work to determine whether DOD controls were adequate to protect the centrally billed accounts from fraud, waste, and abuse. This testimony focuses on whether DOD (1) paid for airline tickets that it did not use and did not process for refund, (2) improperly reimbursed travelers for the cost of airline tickets paid for with centrally billed accounts, and (3) adequately secured access to centrally billed accounts against improper and fraudulent use. This testimony also addresses the internal control breakdowns that led to instances of fraud, waste, and abuse and DOD's corrective actions. In two companion reports issued today, DOD concurred with the 31 recommendations GAO made-- including moving to a well- managed individually billed account program--to improve the management of unused tickets, recover the value of outstanding unused tickets, prevent and detect improper payments, reduce the risk that airline tickets are issued on invalid travel orders, and improve security over the centrally billed accounts.

A weak control environment and breakdowns of key controls over the centrally billed accounts led to millions of dollars wasted on unused airline tickets, reimbursements to travelers for improper and potentially fraudulent airline ticket claims, and issuance of airline tickets based on invalid travel orders. In some instances where the centrally billed accounts were compromised, DOD did not pay for the airline tickets because DOD disputed those charges. However, not all DOD units disputed unauthorized charges. As a result, DOD is vulnerable to paying for fraudulent charges. A major contributing factor to these problems is that DOD's travel order, ticket issuance, and travel voucher systems are not integrated, and DOD had not designed compensating procedures to reconcile data in these systems. Thus, DOD was unable to detect instances where (1) the absence of a travel voucher might indicate that an airline ticket was unused, (2) travelers improperly claimed reimbursement for tickets they did not purchase, and (3) an authorized individual did not approve the travel order submitted to obtain an airline ticket. Other causes are excessive reliance on DOD travelers to report unused tickets, inadequate voucher review, and weak centrally billed account safeguards.

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