The Department of Justice is wasting money on air travel costs through a poorly designed travel website and by failing to discourage the overuse of travel agents, according to the agency’s inspector general. Excessive fees ($626,250) for Justice Department (DOJ) employees to speak with live travel agents instead of booking online. A September 2013 inspector general report on travel spending by DOJ employees found they too often turned to live travel agents instead of using the agency’s e-travel website, GetThere. DOJ travel was administered by a contractor, CWTSatoTravel (CWT), which provided both the online website as well as live booking services over the phone. Each time an employee booked airline travel on the website, the contractor would receive a fee of $6.49, while the cost of each booking completed over the phone would cost DOJ nearly five times more, or $31.
In 2010, the agency began to reach out more aggressively to employees in the hope of ensuring flights were booked online 75 percent of the time. However, by June 2013, DOJ employees were using the online portal for only 60 percent of their flights. Since the agency purchases an average of 167,000 airline tickets annually, the cost of using live agents instead of the website amounted to $626,250. This is not the first time DOJ was called out for excessive air travel costs. A February 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office showed that a culture of excessive travel spending started at the top. The report found that from 2007 through 2011, the three individuals who served as Attorney General took 659 “nonmission flights using DOJ aircraft at a total cost of $11.4 million.
Even if employees used the website it would have resulted in any savings for the agency, and in fact may have cost more. Design flaws in how flights were displayed often failed to show employees the cheapest flights, or if they did provided confusing information to suggest they were not allowed to choose them. The problem stemmed from the execution of a government-wide program called “City Pairs,” which negotiates the price of any flight purchased by the federal government between 500 cities. While employees are encouraged to look for the City Pair flight, which does not change over the course of a year, they are required also to look for cheaper flights should they come available. DOJ’s website, GetThere, would display non-”City Pair” flights as “out of policy” even though it was, in fact, agency policy to look at all flights. As a result, employees would often choose the higher-priced flight, of course.
Information found for this “Your Tax Dollars @ Work” post was done by using a Google search. Information compiled from multiple public websites & media outlets.