Employees charging it to the govt.’s bill

Megan McFadden

Ever wonder where your tax dollars go? Well over the last several years it may have paid for a federal employee’s dinner at Ruth Chris or maybe a pair of earrings for an anniversary gift or even a new suit.

The Associated Press broke a story yesterday that reports the Government Accountability Office found that nearly half of the $14 billion government credit card purchases made from 2005 to 2006 were not legitimate or did not follow procedures.

Federal employees used their cards to pay for online dating services, clothes, lingerie and expensive dinners. One group of accused spendthrift Pentagon employees spent $77,700 at Brooks Brothers, a high-end retail store.

The Pentagon authorizes purchases of up to $860 per person on civilian clothing when performing official duties, which the employees used as their defense, even though they were way over budget.

Employees at the Department of Veteran Affairs charged their Las Vegas vacations on six seperate occasions in 2007, resulting in charges of over $26,000 in casino hotels on their cards.

This was tax paid money that was intended to pay for education, national security and general use, not personal use.

Some of the more disturbing items found were employees in the education department using their cards to pay for porn online. And a postal worker used her plastic to pay for online matchmaking services that caters to married women looking for a casual affair.

However, this is not a new issue. The Washington Post published a similar story in 2001 that provided evidence of misuse of government credit cards and said the use of credit cards by employees was hard to monitor and needed tighter control.

Even last year, the Washington Post reported misuse of credit card spending by Homeland Secuirty Department employees.

The AP story found one employee who reportedly wrote checks for six years amounting to more than $642,000 that paid for her mortgage, cars, dinners and clothes. The illegal spending went completely unnoticed and was not discovered until someone tipped the USDA.

The government’s response to the report? A General Services Administration administrator told AP that the majority of employees use the cards properly and the government saves $1.8 billion in administrative costs a year.

The Post said federal agencies began issuing credit cards to the majority of employees in the 1990s to quicken purchasing procedures. Cards were issued for office supplies, travel and automobile maintenance and fuel.

Many employees are provided multiple credit cards that claim to be able to provide discounts for when employees find good travel deals, they could purchase it right away.

However, the 2001 article cited the five banks that provided the credit cards had to write off about $20 million in bad debt.

The government could also not account for about $1.8 million worth of electronics purchased, including iPods. Now why an iPod counts as a necessity for federal employees I am not quite sure, but the report said the GSA and Office of Management and Budget (yes, there is such a department) who oversee the credit card program should improve accountability of electronics purchased, including iPods, so they can not be stolen.

This report comes just in time for tax season. When I am about to write my check for taxes I owe, a government employee is out there swiping their government card for a new pair of shoes.