The White House

Travel Office Operations Gao ID: GGD-94-132 May 2, 1994

Although the White House had the authority to fire several employees in its press travel office in 1993, the White House should have made the effort to insulate its management decisions from influence from persons with a personal interest in travel office operations. Catherine Cornelius, Harry Thomason, and Darnell Martens, all of whom had potential personal or business interests in the Travel Office operations, created the momentum to examine the Travel Office by raising allegations about improper management to White House officials and participating in activities that appeared to anticipate the firings. Although Mr. Thomason and Mr. Martens had passes that gave them unrestricted access to the White House and participated in discussions about the Travel Office, GAO did not conclude that they were "special government employees" subject to conflict of interest laws. GAO does question the practice of granting nongovernment employees uncontrolled access to White House offices without having policies to govern their activities because the appearance of influence and authority that access conveys could lead to inappropriate actions or abuses. This report discusses (1) past operations and oversight of the Travel Office; (2) current Travel Office operations and the extent to which identified problems have been corrected; (3) actions taken in the spring of 1993 that prompted the White House decision to investigate Travel Office operations and fire the employees; (4) actions taken by other agencies during this period, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service; and (5) other matters related to the Travel Office situation.

GAO found that: (1) there are significant financial and personnel management weaknesses in the White House Travel Office, including the lack of formal procurement guidelines and procedures, proper accounting systems, adequate documentation and billing practices, and effective controls over cash management; (2) although the Travel Office stated that new accounting systems and internal control procedures have been in use since 1993, they had not been fully implemented by 1994; (3) the new Travel Office Director has implemented previous GAO recommendations and improved the Travel Office's systems and procedures; (4) in May 1993, White House officials had proper legal authority to dismiss White House Travel Office employees without cause because they were presidential appointees; (5) the dismissals were properly based on audits which found significant financial management weaknesses; (6) although two employees had access to the White House and participated in Travel Office decisions, they were not subject to conflict-of-interest laws; (7) the White House should have made greater efforts to keep its management decisions confidential and to restrict nongovernmental employees' access to White House offices; (8) FBI and IRS activities during the employees' dismissal were reasonable and consistent with the agencies' normal procedures; and (9) although there is no evidence that White House staff members contacted IRS during the investigative period, they may have unduly influenced the FBI investigation.


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