A District contractor overbilled the Federal Aviation Administration by $56,317 earlier this year, in large part because the company charged inflated fees based on the qualifications of its employees, according to a preliminary government audit report.

The Defense Contract Audit Agency evaluated $1.4 million in FAA charges from Crown Consulting Inc. over four months. Questions about the contract, valued at $16 million, were raised internally by an FAA contracting officer earlier this year. The government is conducting two audits of Crown Consulting's contract to develop a program to manage air traffic, and the FAA has taken steps to overhaul its management of $1.8 billion in similar contracts.

"We believe, based on our ongoing review, that more money will be ultimately recovered by the FAA" than the $56,000, said David Barnes, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation's inspector general. Barnes noted that the FAA has taken corrective action, but he said more work needs to be done. "The DCAA audit, while very narrowly focused, reinforces our preliminary findings that Crown is just a symptom of a larger problem with FAA's oversight of its support services contracts."

Crown, which employs 180 people, declined to comment on the audit, saying the review was not yet complete.

The DCAA's interim audit, which was not released publicly, found at least two Crown employees were not qualified to do the work for which Crown was billing the FAA. Crown employed Patricia Cirillo as an "information engineer" and billed the FAA $29,911 for her work during the four-month period. Cirillo's husband, Michael, is a top FAA official who had ultimate responsibility for Crown's contract.

The audit found Patricia Cirillo "does not possess adequate education and/or experience for the position of Information Engineer, as indicated by her resume, which indicates 7 years experience working in patient care and as an office manager for a medical practice," the audit states. "It is our understanding that Ms. Cirillo's actual duties were purely administrative in nature and included inputting timesheets for FAA employees and monitoring budgets."

A call to the Cirillo home was not returned.

Greg Martin, an FAA spokesman, said the audit results would be used, along with the findings of the Department of Transportation's inspector general, to determine how much to pay Crown as part of a settlement to end the contract. The FAA terminated the contract earlier this year after several internal reviews found that Crown's software to aid air traffic controllers never worked as envisioned.

"We still have some work to do to find what the final number is," in a settlement with Crown, Martin said.

The inspector general has not completed its audit of the Crown contract or of the wider probe into FAA's support service contracts. In its preliminary audit, the DCAA said it plans to conduct a larger review of the full two-year term of the contract and that "potential questioned costs could arise."

Crown came under scrutiny when a new FAA employee assigned to oversee its work questioned the company's performance, the qualifications of its employees and some of its expenses. The employee, Debra Srite, still works for the FAA as a contracting officer in Oklahoma City.

In its report dated Oct. 14, the DCAA found that the majority of Crown's expenses were legitimate and that, in some cases, the FAA could have done a better job to ensure that cost expectations and instructions to Crown were more clear. For example, Crown continued to bill the FAA for its work after the agency indicated it had a funding shortfall and it wanted to end the contract. Auditors said the FAA should have been more clear and told Crown in writing how to slow its work. "We determined the contractor was given confusing instructions regarding the contract termination," the audit states.

The audit also found that many of Crown's travel expenses, including a trip to Las Vegas, were legitimate and approved in advance. Srite said Crown did not provide any evidence that it received written approval in advance when she requested the documentation.

The FAA said it has since improved the way it manages similar contracts. "We've put in place strict controls and reviews to ensure contractor personnel are qualified to provide the services that they are contracted to provide and reviews of all support service contracts to make sure they are bid and subject to routine independent review," Martin said. "Those measures are in place and they are being followed."