Federal Agencies Cannot Account for Millions of Dollars in Aircraft and Car Costs, Say GAO Reports Released by Sens. Collins and Feingold

WASHINGTON, DC—Two new General Accounting Office (GAO) reports released today by Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) show that federal agencies are wasting millions of dollars on government-owned cars and mismanaging the federal aircraft fleet.

“Most families don’t have the money to buy cars they are not going to use, but apparently the same is not true of federal agencies,” said Senator Collins. “Reports of unused cars and hundreds of millions of dollars in unaccounted aircraft costs are simply unacceptable.”

“At a time when we are facing record budget deficits, the federal government needs to demand fiscal restraint from federal agencies,” Senator Feingold said. “Taxpayers should never be asked to pay for cars and airplanes that are left unused or unaccounted for. Every dollar we needlessly throw away is another dollar that we are forcing our children to pay back in higher taxes or fewer benefits.”

According to the GAO, federal agencies spend approximately $1.7 billion annually to operate a fleet of about 387,000 vehicles. GAO found that many federal agencies could not justify the number of vehicles they owned given what they needed to conduct their missions.

In one example, the Department of Interior Inspector General reported to the GAO that a significant portion of the 36,000 vehicles owned by that Department were underutilized and estimated savings of $34 million annually if these vehicles were disposed of. In another example, a car had been parked behind a Veterans Affairs laundry facility since it was bought 4 years earlier. The vehicle had never been used and its keys were missing.

“It is unacceptable for federal agencies to buy vehicles they don’t need and don’t use,” said Senator Collins. “Financial management continues to be a weak point for the federal government. We must demand that federal agencies follow responsible fiscal practices.”

Due to shoddy accounting for aircraft, the GAO could not accurately determine the number of aircraft owned across the government or total aircraft program costs. GAO showed that a database maintained by the General Services Administration (GSA) to track aircraft ownership and costs was unreliable and inaccurate. Although the database showed federal agencies owned nearly 1,400 aircraft and the agencies reported spending more than $700 million to operate and maintain federal aircraft in fiscal year 2002, GAO found it understated the cost of federal aircraft operations by at least $568 million over the past three years.

In its reports, GAO urged GSA to periodically assess vehicle fleet size and composition using utilization criteria related to the mission of a vehicle. It also recommended that the GSA improve the accuracy of the information in its database and help programs to develop more cost-effective aircraft management systems. In addition, it urged the Office of Management and Budget to review and clarify its guidance on the costs of effectively acquiring and managing government aircraft.

The GAO reports are available in PDF format below.