Defense Transportation:

DOD Can Better Ensure That Federal Agencies Fully Reimburse for Using Military Aircraft

GAO-14-189: Published: Feb 27, 2014. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 2014.

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Chris P. Currie
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What GAO Found

The Air Force's 89th Airlift Wing flew 2,513 special air missions for senior federal government officials during fiscal years 2008 through 2012, with the number of missions increasing by 13 percent from 463 missions in fiscal year 2008 to 522 missions in fiscal year 2012. The cost of special air missions ranged from about $17 million in fiscal year 2008 to about $26 million in fiscal year 2012, and the fees paid for secure communication services ranged from about $4 million in fiscal year 2008 to $7 million in fiscal year 2012. The federal agencies with the greatest number of special air missions were the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of State. Members of Congress had the next highest number of missions. Collectively, these agencies and Congress constituted about 91 percent of all special air missions flown by the 89th Airlift Wing.

Number and Cost of 89th Airlift Wing's Missions (by Fiscal Year)

Fiscal year

Number of missions

Cost (in millions)



















Source: GAO analysis of Air Force data.

Note: Dollar values have not been adjusted for inflation.

DOD and other federal agencies followed DOD guidance on the high-priority movement of senior federal government officials on military aircraft, but DOD does not identify and track reimbursements for each mission. This guidance addresses the request, approval, prioritization, scheduling, and reimbursement from non-DOD agencies for special air missions. Federal internal control standards emphasize the importance of internal control activities, such as documenting transactions and events, to help ensure that management's directives are carried out. However, DOD does not identify and track whether it was reimbursed for each special air mission. GAO determined that traveling agencies should have reimbursed DOD approximately $5 million for 180 special air missions flown during fiscal years 2009 through 2012. However, GAO found that DOD was unable to document reimbursement for 16 of the 180 special air missions. Specifically, 2 of the 16 missions were not billed to the proper agency in fiscal year 2010. DOD officials stated that the remaining 14 missions were properly billed, but officials could not document reimbursement. DOD officials told GAO that they do not routinely identify and track reimbursements for each mission and that DOD's guidance does not specifically require organizations to identify and track each special air mission throughout the billing and reimbursement process, such as tracking by mission number or another unique identifier. This is partly because agencies at times make one payment to DOD for multiple missions. However, without a process to identify and track each special air mission for reimbursement, DOD cannot ensure that it has been fully reimbursed as required by DOD guidance.

Why GAO Did This Study

Senior federal government officials—including high-ranking DOD officials, cabinet members, and members of Congress—are required or authorized to fly on military aircraft. This high-priority movement of senior government officials, known as special air missions, is accomplished with a fleet of 15 aircraft assigned to the Air Force's 89th Airlift Wing, located at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Both the Office of Management and Budget and DOD issued guidance on the management and use of these aircraft.

GAO was requested to examine government officials' use of military aircraft and the regulations and policies that govern such travel. GAO examined the extent to which (1) senior federal government officials have used military aircraft and the costs associated with this travel, and (2) agencies have followed guidance governing the use of military aircraft by senior federal government officials. GAO reviewed relevant legislation and guidance, DOD's processes, and special air mission data from fiscal years 2008 through 2012. This review does not include air travel by the President, Vice President, First Lady, and Second Lady.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD ensure federal agencies fully reimburse for special air missions when required by developing a process to identify and track each mission, such as by mission number or another unique identifier, from billing through reimbursement for all applicable costs. In written comments on a draft of the report, DOD concurred with the recommendation.

For more information, contact Chris P. Currie at (404) 679-1875 or

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: As of August 2014, DOD does not have any information on actions taken on this recommendation. As of July 2015, the Department plans to address this recommendation during the next policy rewrite cycle. In the short term, the Special Air Missions office in coordination with OSD Executive Secretary has stressed with external agencies requesting reimbursable travel include the mission number as well as a line of accounting on their travel request memorandum. The Financial Management office at Joint Base Andrews as well as DFAS have also revamped their procedures and are tracking each reimbursable mission by a unique five digit mission number. According to a senior officer at the Special Air Missions Office, they continue to process the monthly bills in the same manner as before the audit and provide the 89th Airlift Wing/Financial Management with a monthly accounting by mission number for the various missions flown. The mission number along with the cost of the reimbursable travel is provided by CVAM to the Financial Management office at Joint Base Andrews. According to an officer in the 89th Lift Wing Comptroller at Joint Base Andrews, they are still waiting for a policy re-write from DoD for special air missions. In the meantime, they track each mission by mission number from billing through the reimbursement process, and process the bills for reimbursement on a monthly basis after receiving the consolidated list from CVAM. There have been a couple of hiccups with a few users that did not send funding before traveling and the comptroller is working to resolve that issue.

    Recommendation: To ensure that federal agencies fully reimburse DOD for special air missions when required to do so, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer to revise guidance and require that DOD organizations develop and implement a process that identifies and tracks each special air mission, such as tracking by mission number or another unique identifier, from billing through reimbursement for all applicable costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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