Finally home after a long business trip, the field representative feels worn out. Unreliable transportation, bare-bones lodging and stingy per diems certainly didn’t help. The rep heaves a sigh, pulls out a wad of crumpled receipts and scrawled notes and starts preparing reports — in triplicate, per the expense report program’s requirements.

Filing meticulous expense claims by hand is nobody’s idea of a good time. But motivation isn’t much of a problem when your boss is al-Qaida.

In a fascinating report from Timbuktu (yes, literally), The Associated Press (AP) examined hundreds of seized receipts and expense reports that provide a window into al-Qaida’s persnickety expense report program. Here are a few of the types of transactions the terrorist organization documents.

  1. Grocery lists. Many of the expenses al-Qaida tracks are for basic food. Invoices include tea and sweeteners, plus staples like pasta, meat, tomatoes and onions.
  2. The small stuff. From $3 for a household cleaner to 60 cents for a light bulb or a cake, apparently nothing is trivial in a terrorist’s expense report program. These small expenses are tracked just as carefully as a $330 ammunition purchase, according to the AP.
  3. Requests for preapprovals. Whether it’s for rockets or clothing for troops, al-Qaida requires requests for funds in advance.

Al-Qaida’s corporate management and bookkeeping are a legacy from Osama bin Laden’s background in economics and business, according to the AP. While the al-Qaida expense report program is probably more detailed and disciplined than that of many organizations and businesses, it’s hardly efficient and may actually cost more than it’s worth.

Compared with using online expense reporting and automated expense management software, a manual system can cost more than twice as much per report. A manual system also doesn’t offer the kinds of transparency and analytic insights that support good decision-making in an organization. An easy-to-use online expense reporting system can improve compliance from employees and executives alike — and unless you’re al-Qaida, brandishing a Kalashnikov rifle isn’t an option.

We’d like to hear what you think of al-Qaida’s expense report program — and how yours compares. Please share your thoughts in the comments section!

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