WASHINGTON (CN) – The Secret Service overpaid by $3.9 million for seats on the charter flights of four presidential candidates during the 2016 campaign, according to a report a government watchdog released Thursday.
In a 47-page report released on Thursday, the Government Accountability Office found the Secret Service misinterpreted a federal rule governing how it should reimburse campaigns for the seats agents take up on charter flights.
Though the report generally found little fault with the Secret Service’s handling of other travel expenses during the 2016 campaign, this misinterpretation meant the Secret Service paid too much for its agents to fly with the Trump, Clinton, Sanders and Carson campaigns from August 2015 to the end of the presidential election.
The Secret Service has reimbursed campaigns for the seats its agents take up on campaign charter flights since at least 1977, paying either the lowest price for a first class seat on a comparable commercial flight or the agent’s share of the total cost of the charter, whichever is cheapest, according to the report.
But in August 2015, in response to an email from a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign, the Secret Service decided the agency should reimburse the campaigns based on the agent’s share of the total cost of the charter, calculated by dividing the cost of the flight by the number of people on the plane.
Although the Office of the Chief Counsel determined this decision was a mistake in March 2016 after receiving questions from Congress, it never notified the office charged with pricing out the first class fares for comparisons. As a result, the Secret Service continued under its new, mistaken policy for the rest of the campaign.
“Despite being aware of the error for eight months before the end of the 2016 presidential campaign that the pro rata fare should be compared to the lowest available first-class airfare, the Office of the Chief Counsel did not ensure the agency reverted to its long standing policy,” the report states.
According to the report, the way in which the reimbursement policy was changed also did not follow normal Secret Service protocol.
In addition, the Secret Service did not return invoices the campaigns submitted with either inaccurate or incomplete information, violating its normal procedures.
This included the Trump campaign double-billing the Secret Service for flights on March 1, 2016, racking up $21,000 in overpayments. Meanwhile, 18 percent of invoices the Sanders campaign submitted that the GAO analyzed contained a mathematical error, according to the report.
According to the report, the Secret Service said in February it would seek refunds from the campaigns as soon as it determined how much it had overpaid each. However, as recently as last month the Secret Service had no “specific plans, timeframes and milestones” for figuring out how much money it was entitled to recover, according to the report.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Secret Service said the agency has put in place measures to make sure the overpayments do not happen again.
“The Secret Service is incredibly proud of how we operated during the 2016 campaign and like any high performance operation we are committed to continual improvement,” Shawn Holtzclaw, the Secret Service spokesman, said in the statement. “After the issues highlighted in the report were brought to our attention, the Secret Service took immediate action to address them. As of the publishing of this report, the Secret Service has completed required corrective actions to ensure miscalculations are not repeated.”