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Readers Don't Buy Card Abuse

A just-released General Accounting Office study found significant abuses in the use and oversight of federal purchase cards, as Dan Eggen writes today. Funds were expended for such strategically important items as lingerie, iPods, Internet dating services and a $13,000 steak-and-liquor dinner.

Most of our Readers Who Comment, including many federal employees, are outraged by what they see as another example of government run amok and a federal thumb in the eye of taxpayers. The federal employees, though, point out that purchase cards are issued to a select few and are not to be confused with a government travel cards, which apparently many more have. They also suggest that supervisory approval is required for payments and suggest -- as does the GAO -- that better oversight is needed.

This is the kind of story that makes people angry about government. I covered federal agencies for many years and found most of the feds I encountered to be honest, effective and conscientious. I also found exceptions to that characterization. I can make the same statement about employees in private enterprises I covered. We're talking about the human condition here folks, but that doesn't make any of us happier.

We'll start with Christopherjhan, who was one of many exuding sarcasm when he wrote, "My tax dollars hard at work."

And roxanne1963 said, "We have nothing but thieving, lying thugs working for our government."

mw123 wrote, "As a federal employee, I am absolutely embarrassed."

bn1123 wrote, "...If people have legitimate expenses, they should either charge them to their own credit cards or pay cash, and then get reimbursed when they present proof of their expenses... But, then, perhaps all of this is chopped liver compared to the $billions we waste in Iraq."

dbeins pointed to the supervisory issue in writing that "...As long as no one oversees these people abuse is going to happen. It happen when Washington was president, I happened when Lincoln was president and it will happen in the future"

Tupac_Goldstein said, "...Having a government credit card entails a large degree of trust. In the few cases mentioned in this article, the trust has been violated... I am certain that the huge majority of government credit card holders observe the regulations and laws, but where oh where is the accountability?..."

mwegner wrote, "I am a Federal employee and I have one of those cards. Over the years, I have had several. I have never charged a cent to them. When I traveled, I used my own card and sorted it out when I reported the travel. MUCH SIMPLER! And I bet the abusers are a small minority of government employees, yet we are all painted with the same brush."

John991 suggests that "employees have the cards but the bills go straight to the government where they are authorized and paid. Any unauthorized use of the card will result in immediate dismissal of the employee involved. If that were the case you'd see a lot less abuse..."

kermit100 said that "...The article seriously misleads people by making it sound like the government got stuck paying the bill because someone charged something on a government credit card. The employee still has to file a reimbursement request, and it is up to the goverment agency for which they work to decide whether the expenses are reimbursable or not. The fact that these were credit card purchases is essentially irrelevant."

FairlingtonBlade wrote that, "Hey, I'd rather use my own credit card (points are useful) and file an expense report. But nooooooh (to paraphrase Steve Martin), we're required to use a govt card for travel... Some people abuse the system. They're a small fraction, but it happens. Then, rules are imposed that add hassles to everyone's work..."

cooper100 said, "...I am always cautious when stories say an auditor found violations of policy/procedure. That can mean that people signed their name on the wrong line, or didn't date their signature. Technically, a violation, but not a grievous error."

chanwoo said, "As a Federal employee, I'm outraged by this behavior - and I'm almost as angry at the light punishments doled out..."

imwizzie wrote, "...If abuse is as wide-spread as GAO finds, then it is high time someone took action not just against the cardholders but also against their billing officials who defrauded the Government by not exercising their fiduciary responsibilities."

We'll close with josiahSchmoe, who said, "...Most people pay their government credit card balances from their own pocket, and have to submit receipts for the reimbursable expenses. So you can buy an IPod with a government credit card, pay off the card, but obviously never be reimbursed. That is a major detail the article lacks... I'll get all up in arms about the cheaters here when the government starts treating its employees with a little dignity."

All comments on the credit card story are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  April 9, 2008; 9:40 AM ET
Categories:  GAO  
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