DOJ Flies The Friendly Skies

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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.

Turn Them On, Leave Them On

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At 6.6 million square feet the Pentagon is often billed by the military as “the world’s largest low-rise office building.” The massive amount of square footage in this building alone translates to miles of hallway space alone, but it is dwarfed by the amount of federal property that sits unused every year. If underutilized federal buildings were converted into Pentagons, you could line up 68 of them end-to-end and just barely have enough room.

Many of these buildings, if not severely underutilized, sit empty but still require the normal upkeep that goes along with running a fully functional building. In 2010, GAO found several buildings that were not only empty, but were set for demolition and yet were maintained at taxpayer expense. One such building owned by the Veterans Affairs Administration cost $20,000 a year to operate. A warehouse owned by the General Services sat completely empty from 2008 through 2011, during which time the agency spent nearly $2 million on it.

Each year, the government spends at least $1.5 billion maintaining properties that it no longer needs. A radioactive property and a property with a collapsed roof are just two examples of government property in serious disrepair. How does GSA rate these rundown buildings? Excellent condition 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.

Doubling Your “IT System” Pleasure

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In December 2012, the U.S. Air Force canceled an Information Technology (IT) program that it had been working on since 2005. The Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS) was an U.S. Air Force Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system that was designed to merge base level and wholesale logistics systems, and to deliver hard net-savings for the USAF. The Air Force scrapped the program after dumping $1 billion into the project, with no identifiable benefit to the military or to the taxpayer. Furthermore, the project would have required an additional $1.1 billion to fix and the system would not have been completed until 2020.

Why settle for one IT system when you can have two that do the same thing? According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), that is the practice at several federal agencies, which are administering overlapping and duplicative IT systems. The federal government spends more than $82 billion on IT each year, but according to a recent GAO report three agencies have spent $321 million for overlapping IT purposes over the past several years.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spent over $30 million on two IT programs, both of which supported “immigration enforcement booking management, which includes the processing of apprehended illegal aliens suspected of committing criminal violations of immigration law.” The two systems identified by GAO are used by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but both collect nearly identical biographical data on illegal aliens arrested for committing crimes. However, DHS said it has no plans to address the duplicative expenditures.

Four duplicative IT systems were identified at the Department of Defense (DOD) with a price tag of $30.6 million. Two of these systems were in “Health Care Tracking” and two were in “Dental Management.” Unlike DHS, DOD agreed to work to eliminate the duplicity, but the results are yet to be seen. The most costly duplicative IT systems GAO found are maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) totaling $260.38 million. Four of HHS’s systems related to “Enterprise Information Security,” meaning the systems were used to “maintain and secure the operations and assets of HHS and its components.” Two other duplicative IT systems were used for Medicare coverage and contained similar information by the same contractor. While HHS was reviewing whether it could consolidate the four systems related to Enterprise Information Security, it stated it was too costly to consolidate two systems related to Medicare coverage.

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Information found for this “Your Tax Dollars @ Work” post was done by using a Google search. Information compiled from multiple public websites & media outlets.

Speaking Of Googling It……….

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One federal agency is charging other offices and taxpayers to provide government reports that are largely available free of charge on the Internet. It is essentially the “let me Google that for you” office of the federal government. Home to more than three million records, the Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS) collects “government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business-related information” and reports and sells them to other federal agencies. Only it turns out most of what it sells can also be found for free on the Internet with little effort. Established more than 60 years ago, NTIS is a vestige of the pre-Internet era when a lot of the reports the agency collects were not widely available; however, as times have changed agency has not.

Required by law to be largely self-sustaining, NTIS charges other federal agencies to access its collection of reports. However, a November 2012 review of the office by GAO uncovered that about three-quarters of the reports in the NTIS archives were available from other public sources. Specifically, GAO estimated that approximately 621,917, or about 74 percent, of the 841,502 reports were readily available from one of the other four publicly available sources GAO searched. The GAO explains, that the source that most often had the reports GAO was searching for was located at Google. In addition, reports could be found on the website of the issuing federal department, the Government Printing Office’s website, or USA.gov.

Yet, federal departments continue to send taxpayer dollars to NTIS for reports they could get for free with a simple web search. NTIS notes that one of its best-sellers is the Armed Forces Recipe Service, available on CD-ROM for $79. However, the Armed Forces Recipe Service recipe index is also available online and can be downloaded for free directly from the Quartermaster Corps Website. Further, a recipe index that offers 1,700 convenient recipes for groups of 100 that can be easily adjusted up or down, likely falls outside the scope of technical, scientific, and engineering reports the office should be collecting.

Another report sold by NTIS is the 2009 Public Health Service Food Code produced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is available for $69. Alternatively, the report is available for free on the Food and Drug Administration’s website. Moreover, GAO found much of the work outdated because NTIS has focused largely on growing its repertoire of older reports. Specifically, NTIS added approximately 841,500 reports to its repository during fiscal years 1990 through 2011, and approximately 62 percent of these had publication dates of 2000 or earlier. While the office worked to accumulate reports older than those dated 2000, GAO reports that only 21 percent of the reports distributed from 2001 to 2011 were dated older than 1989. Meanwhile, nearly 100 percent of the reports from 2009-2011 were distributed. However, these are also the most likely to be available online elsewhere.

More than 12 years ago, GAO issued two different reports explaining NTIS would need to soon reconsider its function and fee-based model, as the Internet made of the reports it sold available for free. Shuttering the NTIS entirely was first suggested in 1999, by the Clinton administration’s Secretary of Commerce William Daley, who contended declining sales revenues soon would not be sufficient to recover all of NTIS’ operating costs. The Secretary attributed this decline to other agencies’ practice of making their research results available to the public for free through the Web.

According to GAO, the decline in revenue for its products continues to call into question whether NTIS’s basic statutory function of acting as a self-financing repository and disseminator of scientific and technical information is still viable. As the actual “let me Google that for you” website explains, this is for all of those people who find it more convenient to bother you with their question than Google it for themselves. But when NTIS is doing the Googling, the search response comes with a price tag for taxpayers. Federal agencies pay NTIS millions of dollars each year to provide government reports that are available for free online and can be found with a simple Google search. They need to start paying me because I Google everything!

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Information found for this “Your Tax Dollars @ Work” post was done by using a Google search. Information compiled from multiple public websites & media outlets.