Only about 4 percent of DoD travel payments qualify as improper and only a portion of those result in overpayments to travelers, GAO said, but because of the size of the program, overpayments still totaled some $200 million over two years.
A report noted that improper payments are a “long-standing, significant challenge in the federal government” including at DoD, which over 2017-2018 spent $18.3 billion on travel-related costs for civilian and military personnel. Of the nearly $550 million in that period deemed improper—including payments that should not have been made or were made in an incorrect amount—$205 million resulted in monetary loss.
GAO said that while DoD has put in place a program to reduce improper payments at 10 components accounting for the bulk of travel payments, only four have 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 a result, DoD does not have reasonable assurance that its actions have been sufficient.”
“DoD has mechanisms to identify errors leading to improper travel payments, and some components have developed specific corrective plans to address the errors. However, GAO found that these efforts did not clearly identify the root causes of the errors, in part because there is no common understanding of what constitutes the root cause of improper travel payments. DoD components also have not incorporated considerations of cost-effectiveness into decisions about whether to take actions that could reduce improper payments,” the report said.
GAO said the department generally agreed with its recommendations 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.