- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

The government agency that distributes foreign aid cost taxpayers a half-million dollars the past two years by repeatedly upgrading senior officials’ plane tickets from coach to business class, an investigation found.

Among those at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) who took advantage of the upgrades were Administrator Andrew Natsios and the agency’s internal watchdog, Inspector General Everett Mosley, according to two internal reports obtained by the Associated Press.

“It can be concluded that employees who took advantage of the [upgrade] allowed this private gain to take precedence over the ethical principles of properly following government travel rules and regulations,” investigators reported.

The investigators were from Mr. Mosley’s office of the inspector general.

USAID’s travel practice, more liberal than that followed by other government agencies, was ended by Mr. Natsios as a result of the investigation.

Mr. Mosley is the official assigned to investigate fraud, waste and abuse in the agency. The probe provided a rare instance when Mr. Mosley’s subordinates investigated their boss and referred him to the Justice Department for any criminal prosecution.

Mr. Mosley’s investigators concluded Mr. Natsios may have run afoul of standards of conduct by failing to stop the practice “after he and members of his executive staff had been put on notice” that it was inappropriate.

Prosecutors declined criminal prosecution, in part because Mr. Mosley’s conduct was being referred to the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which investigates charges of wrongdoing against inspectors general.

Both officials defended their conduct, saying they simply followed USAID’s 2-decades-old rules that allowed senior political appointees to upgrade to business class for a trip that lasts more than seven hours. The rest of the government permits upgrades only when trips are longer than 14 hours and creates no distinctions between rank-and-file workers and senior officials.

“The implication is, somehow I established a policy that’s at variance to get a benefit for myself,” Mr. Natsios said. “This policy has been in force for 22 years. The question for me is, if this is so serious a problem, why has no inspector general said anything for 22 years?”

In a separate interview, Mr. Mosley said: “I followed the agency travel policy, which had been in place, … and I had no reason to question it.”

From January 2002 to February 2004, USAID “has paid a cumulative total of $494,000 for business-class travel that is not properly justified based on government rule and/or regulation,” investigators said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said Mr. Mosley said he had not been warned USAID lacked authority to set the seven-hour travel rule, but Mr. Mosley’s own staff travel expert told investigators he gave Mr. Mosley that warning in the fall of 2000.

Mr. Mosley “engaged in wasteful and unauthorized travel practices, and then failed to be truthful about it,” said Mr. Grassley, who has closely followed the investigation.

The internal investigation also questioned whether Mr. Natsios and other officials may have violated a law that prevents retaliation against whistleblowers when they reassigned the agency’s chief of travel and transportation after she protested the upgrades.

Mr. Natsios said she was transferred because she ran a dysfunctional office and that her protests about upgrades played no role.

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