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It wasn’t until Hampton had received about $25,000 for trips he never took that the scam unraveled, authorities said. He pleaded guilty last year in federal court in Washington to theft.

In other cases, employees targeted in travel investigations managed to avoid getting hauled into court and kept their jobs.

At the National Science Foundation (NSF), one senior manager extended trips and initiated travel “to facilitate his relationships with female companions, one of whom is an NSF employee,” according to an internal inspector general’s memo on the case. The trips included meetings in faraway destinations such as Tokyo, Vancouver and Paris.

When asked by investigators whether it was appropriate to consider a woman’s presence in Vancouver when deciding whether to speak at workshop there, documents show the official responded, “Yeah, why not?”

For a trip to San Diego, the official was supposed to attend an event on a Sunday evening but arrived a day earlier. In e-mails later obtained by investigators, the official wrote to a woman he planned to see in the city: “Ordinarily I would fly out Sunday …. [M]y site visit in San Diego begins on Sunday 29th in late afternoon. … I should be able to fly out a day earlier. … If you want to come down that evening, stay over and spend the morning by the ocean, we can make that work.”

The NSF official, whose name was redacted in reports obtained by The Times, remains employed at the foundation.

A spokeswoman for the foundation said that as a result of the investigation, the official was removed from a division director position and assigned to a non-supervisory job in April 2008.

At the same time, the NSF rescinded preliminary approval for him to receive a presidential rank award, which would have been worth more than $33,000 if awarded.

NSF spokeswoman Lisa-Joy Zgorski said neither the NSF nor the Office of Personnel Management had previously announced that the official had been approved to receive the award, and he did not receive the honor. In addition, she said, the official was ranked “minimally satisfactory” and received no bonus or pay raise for 2008.

Premium class

The aim of the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs is to promote diplomacy on issues such as infectious diseases, space exploration and climate change around the world. But for much of 2007 and 2008, the office executives jetting around the world on important missions did so in style.

A State Department inspector general report released in December, after an open records request by The Times for the document, found that of $311,154 in travel expenses reviewed at the bureau, more than 80 percent represented business-class travel purchases.

Some of the trips weren’t long enough to justify flying business class, while other trips lacked the paperwork or proper authorizations for upgrades from coach, according to the report.

“The bureau’s management took seriously the observations of the office of inspector general and immediately took a number of steps to address the concerns,” State Department spokeswoman Laura Tischler said.

Under new management, the bureau’s tightened travel restrictions include more training and reforms requiring that all business-class travel requests be approved by high-ranking officials at the executive director level and above. And employees, regardless of rank, now must complete an authorization form to “demonstrate that the travel clearly meets the criteria for business-class accommodations,” Ms. Tischler said.

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