Over a two-year period (November 1998 to December 2000), the unpaid travel charge card debt of Department of Justice (Department) employees amounted to $1.2 million. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) employees were responsible for $824,618, or 69 percent, of this unpaid debt. According to a Bank One official responsible for the Department account, the Department would rank as one of the better government accounts if not for the INS's poor performance. In a separate Department-wide report, we concluded that the travel card programs administered by the other components were generally effective. 1 That report included a summarization of the best practices we identified in the components' travel card programs. However, because of the magnitude of the problems we found with the INS's administration of its travel card program, we are issuing this separate report that examines the INS's problems in-depth and includes specific recommendations to the INS for corrective action.
Under the Government Travel Charge Card Program created by the General Services Administration (GSA), government employees are provided travel charge cards to use while traveling on official business. As of December 2000, 89,880 Department employees had travel charge cards. INS employees accounted for 23,603 (26.3 percent) of these cards. The Department's average monthly travel charge card activity from January 1999 through December 2000 was $18.3 million. During this time frame, employees of the INS were responsible for average monthly charges of $5.4 million.
We conducted a review of Department travel charge card delinquencies using a snapshot of Department cardholders who were 120 to 180 days delinquent as of January 1, 2001. The list of delinquent cardholders provided by Bank One, the provider of the charge cards, consisted of 150 cardholders owing a total of $361,087. The INS portion of the sample consisted of 54 cardholders in 19 locations (nine district offices, five border patrol sectors, two headquarters offices, one regional office, one processing center, and one regional service center) owing a total of $190,623.
INS cardholders, like other Department cardholders, have a responsibility to pay for all charges made with their travel charge cards and to use the cards only for official government travel. When cardholders fail to make payments and when continual delinquencies cause travel cards to be suspended or canceled, the cardholders' ability to perform their jobs may be affected. Employees who are unable to travel because of a loss of a card disrupt INS operations, and employees in positions of responsibility who have accrued considerable debt are vulnerable to failing suitability standards or succumbing to corrupt influences. In addition, the INS receives a rebate based on the amount of charges made, excluding automated teller machine (ATM) charges. A recent GSA contract modification allows Bank One to offset a portion of the amount of its credit losses from the travel card program (i.e., the uncollected amounts that are 180 days or more delinquent) from the rebates that the INS has earned. The INS's debt, if continued at the same level, will reduce any rebates that the INS currently receives.
To administer its travel charge card program, the INS has designated coordinators for each of its program offices, district offices, border patrol sectors, service centers, and asylum offices. As a part of our review, we telephonically contacted the designated travel card coordinators for the locations in our sample to assess their procedures for monitoring delinquencies and to obtain detailed information on individual delinquencies.
The high delinquency rates of INS employees indicate that significant improvements are needed in travel card program administration. Although the INS does have written guidance for the travel card program, we found that this guidance does not include many important controls needed for adequate monitoring of travel cards. We also found that INS employees, supervisors, and management officials do not uniformly adhere to the guidance.
We identified the following areas where the INS could improve its administration of the travel card program: (1) ensuring that INS management understands and communicates to its employees the importance of reducing delinquencies and misuse; (2) ensuring that delinquencies and misuse are identified and resolved in a timely manner; (3) routinely referring unresolved delinquencies and instances of serious or frequent misuse to the INS's Office of Internal Audit for investigation; (4) disciplining employees who misuse or fail to make payments on their cards; (5) providing adequate headquarters oversight of unresolved delinquencies; (6) eliminating the practice of providing travel advances to those employees whose cards have been canceled due to delinquency or misuse; (7) automating changes to work station locations; (8) controlling ATM access for its employees; (9) controlling physical access to the card; (10) training travel card coordinators; (11) informing managers and supervisors of their roles in the process; and (12) regularly briefing cardholders on their travel charge card responsibilities.