Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Your tax dollars abused

"Too many government employees have viewed purchase cards as their personal line of credit.
It's time to cut up their cards and start over." Sen. Norm Coleman, R-MN

Ya know, it sets my teeth on edge to have to agree with Norm Coleman first thing in the morning. It really, truly does. But that is exactly where I find myself today, reading the GAO report and corresponding Washington Post article on the abuse and misuse of purchase cards by government employees.

About a decade ago, it was decided that department managers, shift supervisors and certain other personnel working in the various and sundry federal departments should have a little latitude. Cards were issues for routine and ordinary purchases. The old procurement process was a bureaucratic nightmare. The old process is where those "speed of government" jokes came from. Let me illustrate by example. In 1988, if a monitor crapped out, an entire workstation would be down for weeks while a new monitor was requisitioned and ordered from a specific supplier who had the contract to supply all of the monitors to a specific government entity. This was stupid, and it was infuriating.

Fast forward one decade...purchase cards were issued to certain federal employees that situations like I just described might be eliminated. People like me had the option of performing the troubleshooting checklist and then going to Office Max or Best Buy or Comp USA and buying a new monitor and getting the workstation back up after lunch instead of having it sit idle for weeks, perhaps months.

Makes sense, right? You trust me with submitting all these man hours to payroll, you can trust me to buy office supplies. Right?

Me personally? Sure. Every penny accounted for properly. Justified, verified and immediate supervisor informed. All "i's" dotted and "t's" crossed. Hand delivered to the appropriate administrator and a receipt requested. Copies made and filed in my file cabinet in my office. No screwing around, since at the end of the journey, I always figured I was ultimately spending my own money, since as a taxpayer I am the origin of the governments funding source.

I'm such a chump!

The GAO found that nearly half the "purchase card" transactions it examined were improper, some because they weren't authorized correctly and others because they did not meet requirements for the cards' use. The audit determined that the overall rate of problems "is unacceptably high."

Nearly $2 million was spent on items such as laptops and digital cameras and can not be accounted for. The Department of the Army charged more than a dozen computer servers worth a hundred grand apiece to the cards, and now can't account for them.
The audit is the culmination of a series of GAO reports over the past decade that have uncovered improper use of government-issued purchase cards at agencies, including the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Government employees spent nearly $20 billion last year using "SmartPay" cards and related convenience checks, for items ranging from pencils to computers to utility trucks.

Purchase cards, used by about 300,000 government employees in 2007, are essentially the federal government's equivalent of corporate credit cards. Issued by five major banks, they are primarily for transactions under $2,500 but can be used for larger contract payments. All transactions are supposed to comport with federal purchasing guidelines, including proper authorization and documentation.

The latest study used scientific sampling to gauge problems with the cards across numerous federal agencies from July 2005 to September 2006. The report singles out incidents for special criticism as "abusive," "improper" or "fraudulent."

In the fraudulent category, a longtime employee of the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon, Debra K. Durfey, wrote convenience checks worth more than $640,000 from 2000 to 2006 to a live-in boyfriend, who used the money for gambling, car expenses and mortgage payments, according to the GAO and the Justice Department.

The fraud went undetected until a whistle-blower forwarded a tip to the Agriculture Department's inspector general. Durfey, who headed her unit's purchasing office, pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to 21 months in prison and restitution.

Another fraud case involved the U.S. Postal Service, where an unidentified postmaster used his card to charge $1,100 over a 15-month period for "various online dating services" while he was under investigation for viewing pornography on a government computer. The employee worked out an agreement to remain on sick leave until he retired in 2007 and paid back the money spent on the dating services, according to the GAO report and a Postal Service spokesman.

In a case the GAO deemed "abusive," the Postal Service spent $13,500 in 2006 on a dinner at a Ruth's Chris Steak House in Orlando, including "over 200 appetizers and over $3,000 of alcohol, including more than 40 bottles of wine costing more than $50 each and brand-name liquor such as Courvoisier, Belvedere and Johnny Walker Gold." The tab came to more than $160 a head for the 81 guests, the report said.

A spokesman for the Postal Service, Gerry McKiernan, seemed almost indignant that the expense for the dinner would even raise an eyebrow and he would have to answer questions about it by unctuous guttersnipes from the GAO. "When you're having dinner with customers, it's normal to have a drink," McKiernan asserted.

In another glaring example of perfidy, a State Department cardholder spent $360 at a lingerie boutique in Ecuador. Ostensibly, the expense was for "women's underwear/lingerie for use during jungle training by trainees of a drug enforcement program." No further details of the purchase were revealed, but a State Department official "agreed that the charge was questionable." (Ya think???)

Reading reports like this just disgusts me to my very core. I am easily infuriated by people who just don't know how to act. People who, apparently, have never managed to grow up. Narcissistic brats who think the world owes them something instead of realizing humbly that it's the other way around.

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