The Energy Department has spent $4.57 million on 16 foreign trips by the secretary of energy, including hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in questionable ways or simply wasted, according to a draft report released Wednesday by the department’s inspector general.
The report was prepared at the request of Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary after complaints by Congress about her trade missions and other trips abroad. The report did not accuse her of any wrongdoing, but Thomas Grumbly, the under secretary, said Wednesday evening that it was certain to provide ammunition for the department’s critics among Republicans in Congress.
The inspector general, John C. Layton, found that through bad management and weak accounting, the department had, for example, paid $7,492 for a flight in South Africa that should have cost $1,347; spent $16,217 on hotel lodging for people who helped out on the trip but were employed at the U.S. embassy in the country being visited; spent $6,609 in India to install eight telephones in a hotel, and spent $2,277 to reserve a block of rooms in a Beijing hotel, some of which were never used.
Because of weak accounting, the report said, it was not possible to verify how some money was spent.
Executives of private companies who came on four trade trips were supposed to pay their own way. But for a trip to India, the department charged each executive $2,800 in air fare, although the actual cost per person was estimated to be $12,860, the report found; in addition, on many trips the department never actually collected the amounts billed.
The report said the department appeared to have violated a federal law by spending $18,000 on receptions in South Africa after it had exhausted its entertainment budget.
The department also added hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs by chartering planes or taking Pentagon planes instead of going on commercial flights, the report said. It noted that these were choices by O’Leary and travel planners, made for security reasons or to accommodate the groups’ schedules.
O’Leary said that she accepted the thrust of the findings and would implement the 29 recommendations the report made. Some have already been put in place, she said.