Audit: Federal utility execs overspent on travel expenses

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An audit has found instances in which executives for the nation’s largest public utility overspent on travel.

The inspector general’s report Wednesday audited about $1.8 million worth of Tennessee Valley Authority executive travel expenses from October 2016 through July 2018.

The report cites instances in which executives didn’t comply with federal travel regulation and TVA policies, including overpaid per diems; excessive meal costs while traveling; use of car services instead of less expensive options; foreign travel problems; lodging issues; and travel costs unreported to the utility’s board.

“The actions by some TVA executives indicate a “Tone at the Top” that could send a message to TVA employees that management is not committed to the TVA Code of Conduct” and complying with existing policies and procedures, the audit states.

TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash, who started in April, said the utility is clarifying its policies and will better follow those that are clear. The utility also contends the report does not say anyone is misusing resources.

“The TVA Inspector General’s audit shows that we need to be more rigorous and disciplined in our record keeping so we can demonstrate that we are operating to the highest standards,” Lyash said in a statement.

In 25 of 51 hospitality events and business meetings involving executive travel, the average cost per person was higher than what is allotted for a full day per diem in those cities, the audit says.

One business meeting occurred at a Washington, D.C., restaurant in 2016 at a cost of $1,157, or $231 per person, compared to the per diem rate of $69 per person. Meanwhile, a hospitality event at a five-diamond rated restaurant in New York in 2018 cost $911, or $304 per person, compared with the $74 per person per diem rate, the audit says.

The audit noted the use of a car service in June 2017 by former TVA CEO Bill Johnson and another executive. The two were driven 13 miles (21 kilometers) from a local Atlanta airport to a meeting, where the chauffer waited three hours and then drove the executives back to the airport at a cost of $935, the audit says. It shows that a car service was used in New York and Washington, where the former CEO said he relied on that form of transportation for safety and security, but added that should only apply to the CEO and senior officers.

The former CEO also took five first-class international flights totaling $31,277, though he cited a medical disability as justification, the audit states.

Additionally, the audit raised concerns about 42 lodging stays totaling $6,867 within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of where the officials worked.

TVA agreed with the inspector general’s recommendations in most cases, writing in response to the audit that there are opportunities for improvement in documentation and approval of travel expenditures, clarification of policies, and training regarding expectations involving those policies and procedures. The utility wrote that it is conducting a review to see if there are further issues, adding an audit to ensure compliance, and pursuing a new expense reimbursement system.

The TVA is a federal utility that serves nearly 10 million people in parts of seven Southeastern states and receives no taxpayer funding, deriving virtually all of its revenue from electricity sales.