MAY 29, 2009
Systematic fraud, waste and mismanagement in the federal travel card program has for years allowed government employees to bilk U.S. taxpayers out of millions of dollars.
Issued to federal employees who travel more than five times a year, the charge cards are regularly used by workers from a wide range of agencies to buy personal items, travel first-class or simply steal cash from the government. Details of the ongoing fraud are documented in a congressional report made public this week.
Among the examples listed are a Federal Aviation Administration employee who used the government card to pay $3,700 for laser eye surgery, a State Department employee who took a first-class Hawaiian vacation on the government and a Pentagon employee who got reimbursed for more than a dozen airline tickets—totaling nearly $10,000—that he never bought.
The probe also discovered that many agencies don’t collect reimbursement for millions of dollars worth of unused airline tickets and that they fail to ensure that premium accommodations are justified. A few years ago a separate congressional report revealed that the Department of Defense had bought $90 million worth of unauthorized premium class tickets.
That report, conducted by a different congressional investigative agency, also said that the government travel cards were used to pay for outrageous things like kitchen appliances, sapphire rings, gambling, cruises, gentlemen’s clubs and legalized brothels.
There is hope for change, however. Last week a Senate committee approved legislation requiring agencies to establish safeguards and controls for the fraud-infested charge-card system and to penalize violators. The Iowa lawmaker who introduced the measure said “agencies can’t look the other while employees are going on shopping sprees at taxpayers’ expense.”
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