When government employees use their travel cards to make personal purchases, it’s personal to the taxpayers.
The 1998 Travel and Transportation Reform Act, which mandated the use of travel cards, ironically intended to simplify government employees’ purchases. But since each government agency manages its own employees’ cards, there is no uniform oversight of misuses. Over the years, whistleblowers shed light on the corruption of the travel card, agency by agency.
The most recent culprit is the Pentagon. From July 2013 to June 2014, Pentagon employees spent nearly $ 1 million at casinos using their travel cards. Also, employees spent more than $96,000 at “adult entertainment establishments.” Out of the 4,000 individual transactions, only 41 received punishment and a “letter of reprimand.”
Knowing that the Pentagon receives a large piece of the federal pie, employees using funds for personal uses is unacceptable. The Pentagon already wastes money on actual defense, notably a recently revealed $17 million in Afghanistan.
One of the earliest misuses of the travel cards was from none other than the State Department. The worst offenses were unauthorized first class tickets to Hawaii and tens of thousands of dollars meant for Hurricane Katrina victims diverted to “training” at golf and tennis resorts. Overall, travel cards took away $600,000 in Hurricane Katrina relief money.
And it wouldn’t be fraud without the Internal Revenue Service involved. In 2013, the same year of the Tea Party targeting scandal and multi-million dollar conferences, employees used their work cards to buy items such as pornography, diet pills, smart phones and wine.
Luckily, the Senate voted to crack down on card misuse in December. The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), would create an office that oversees and improves use of agencies’ purchases.
Last week, President Obama introduced a record $4.1 trillion budget plan, which would result in a $3.4 trillion take hike over 10 years. Before even considering this hike, the federal government needs to rein in employees using taxpayer money for personal use.