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Employees flying premium class instead of coach is hardly a new problem in federal government.

In 2007, the Government Accountability Office found at least $146 million wasted because employees weren’t flying coach. One executive flew from Washington to Switzerland at a cost of $7,500, compared with $900 for coach. The General Services Administration last year published rules enacting recommendations in the GAO report.

“Travel is one of those issues that has a disproportionate impact on public confidence in government because taxpayers can relate to the costs more directly,” said Pete Sepp, vice president of policy for the National Taxpayers Union.

“Most folks have traveled by air, and they know what it’s like to have to shop for bargain fares,” he said. “Most who wind up in business class consider themselves pretty fortunate, and can get in trouble with the boss if they overuse the privilege.”

Discount fares

Investigators at the GSA’s inspector general office in 2006 spent months reviewing the finances of a now-defunct travel agency in Virginia called Four Directions Travel. They found the company routinely bought discount airfares for which only government workers on official travel qualify, then used those same tickets for nongovernmental customers, records show.

The investigation concluded that airlines had lost more than $1.2 million as result, including more than $500,000 in losses at American Airlines alone.

Internal memos also show that when the GSA’s inspector general presented the case to prosecutors, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia declined to file charges. Among the reasons, the office cited “the high number of cases and limited number of assistant United States Attorneys,” according to memos.

The company eventually closed and was debarred from competing for federal contracts in 2007 for two years. Its phone number disconnected, the company could not be reached for comment, and phone calls to its attorney were not returned.

Hitting the links, slopes

On Saturday, Dec. 2, 2006, Christopher Ryan Henry, then one Pentagon’s highest-ranking officials, checked into the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort in Colorado and spent parts of two days skiing before visiting Buckley Air Force Base on Monday for a tour.

Years later, that trip and several others would surface as the Pentagon’s inspector general investigated whether Mr. Henry, the former principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, had been arranging or extending official travel for personal reasons, according to a report obtained by The Times last year.

On the Colorado trip, for example, investigators concluded that during four days of travel claimed as official, Mr. Henry conducted only one day of official business on the trip. Investigators also found that 21 trips by Mr. Henry “had some personal or leisure component attached to them,” according to the report.

Mr. Henry ultimately repaid more than $17,000, but he disputes any wrongdoing.

“I strongly disagree with the IG’s processes, findings and conclusions as they were presented to me,” he said in an e-mail, adding that his decision to reimburse the money was voluntary.

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