For years, federal agencies have struggled to rein in the abuse of government-issued credit cards. The cards are intended for business expenses but too often have been used to buy personal items and luxury goods at taxpayer expense.
In one instance, federal employees were even billing their agency for BMWs and home theatre systems.
Federal auditors say even today, departments are failing to provide proper employee oversight—leaving millions of dollars vulnerable to waste and abuse. The latest report comes from the Department of Transportation’s inspector general, who estimated that in 2012 alone, employees charged more than $2 million in unauthorized travel expenses.
During that same period, auditors found that some DOT workers used their credit cards to collect $183,000 in cash advances while not on government trips.
Until the IG called attention to the problem, it went unnoticed by the department – even though DOT doled out $175 million for travel expenses for employees that year.
“Out of the 400 cardholder cash advance transactions we tested, 24 were excessive, and none were detected by program officials,” auditors said in the report. “Program officials also did not detect all unauthorized cash advances that DOT employees collected while not on government travel because they lack an effective process for reviewing transactions for potential abuse.”
DOT officials have the tools to detect this abuse. Auditors say that “program officials have access to an effective screening tool from the travel card provider. However, they do not use it because DOT’s Travel Management Policy does not require them to do so.”
The IGs said DOT has “effective controls in place” to make sure employees aren’t making purchases at businesses that don’t provide travel-related services. However, the agency doesn’t follow specific procedures to prevent excessive and unauthorized spending at businesses that do provide lodging, meals and transportation. It also hasn’t done a good job of weeding out unauthorized cash advances.
The auditors noted their findings were nothing new for the agency.
“In prior audits, we identified instances of DOT employees’ abuse and misuse of their travel cards, including purchases for personal use, excessive cash advances, and late payments.”
Earlier this year, employees at the Environmental Protection Agency came under fire for using their agency charge cards to buy personal items that the EPA’s IG deemed “inappropriate.” That included gym memberships for themselves and their family members, lavish dinners and DVDs.
The issue is so persistent Congress even passed a bill in 2012 that requires agencies to review their purchase card programs periodically to week out unauthorized payments that cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Still, according to these audits, the problem clearly remains.
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