In recent weeks, iWatch News has published three stories about high-flying officials in the Department of Veterans Affairs commuting to D.C. at taxpayer expense. In reporting these pieces, two questions have come up again and again: How did this happen, and how widespread is the practice?
The inspector general reports on which the stories were based give some hints to the first question: 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."
Do you know a federal employee who commutes to work by plane? Are you a government worker whose boss or coworkers are abusing official travel status or their duty station assignment? Email tips to iWatch News Reporter Corbin Hiar: firstname.lastname@example.org