The Defense Department made $965 million in improper travel payments between fiscal years 2016 and 2018 and should do more to strengthen its actions to reduce such payments, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
DOD spent more than $18 billion on travel payments between FY-16 and FY-18, averaging $322 million in improper payments annually, GAO said.
However, not all improper travel payments resulted in a monetary loss to the government. Some payments were later discovered to be legitimate, but initially lacked supporting documentation, according to GAO.
DOD estimates that FY-17 and FY-18 resulted in a total monetary loss of $205 million out of $549 million in improper payments.
DOD in October 2016 established a remediation plan to reduce improper travel payments and set up a committee to monitor implementation of the plan at 10 department components.
"However, DOD did not take into account the components' own estimates of their improper payment rates," the report states. "As of March 2019, only 4 of the 9 components that responded to GAO's survey had completed all of the plan's requirements, in part because of a lack of milestones in the plan and ineffective monitoring for required actions. As result, DOD does not have reasonable assurance that its actions have been sufficient."
GAO also found that DOD has failed to clearly identify the root causes of the payment errors, in part because "there is no common understanding of what constitutes the root cause of improper travel payments."
The department, according to GAO, has also not included considerations of cost-effectiveness into its decisions about whether it should take actions that could reduce improper payments.
"Without addressing these issues, DOD will likely miss opportunities to implement the changes necessary to address the root causes of improper travel payments," GAO said.
The report includes five recommendations to tighten DOD's oversight of improper travel payments, including that "the department consider data on improper payment rates in its remediation approach; define the term 'root cause,' and consider cost effectiveness in deciding how to address improper payments," GAO states.
DOD concurred with four recommendations, but did not concur with revising its approach for selecting components to implement its remediation plan, stating it has already taken actions that address the issue.
Still, "GAO believes the recommendation remains valid," the report states.