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Wasted opportunities: Find and investigate waste now

Investigators and auditors spend hours looking for fraud and abuse but often overlook the third bad boy: waste. Fraud is flashy, and abuse is sinister. But waste often gets a short shrift. These CFEs encourage us to look for waste so we can save our organizations millions during these lean times.

When we’re investigating or auditing, the “waste” component of “waste, fraud and abuse” can take a back seat to its compatriots. Fraud is flashy and gets all the headlines. Abuse is sinister and ugly. Drab waste, it feels, is just what’s left over. But should that always be the case?

In 2004, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) discovered that the Department of Defense (DOD) wasted more than $100 million on unused airline tickets. That’s clearly a number worth your attention. This is a case of waste because the 270,000 unused commercial flight tickets were fully refundable. DOD employees bought flights, which they couldn’t use for legitimate reasons. But then they just didn’t request the eligible refunds. (See DOD Travel Cards, United States General Accounting Office, GAO 04-398, March 2004.)

On a smaller scale, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife wasted more than $500,000 on a customized research boat that couldn’t perform the research surveys for which the department purchased it. State auditors found that the employee assigned to write the technical specifications lacked the expertise to design the custom boat.

The auditors said the department’s management approved final payment to the vendor, including amounts for services and equipment that the department didn’t receive. After the department purchased the custom boat, it sat mostly unused for two years because of several problems, including a fuel tank that caused the boat to lean to one side and hull modifications that made it difficult to steer the boat straight. (See Investigation of Improper Activities by State Agencies and Employees, Auditor of the State of California, Case I2017-1372, April 2020.)

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