US Federal Credit Cards are Being Misused

By: Sarah Othman


The United States Government have come under fire recently for being too liberal when allocating expense credit cards to employees and has also been criticised for not clamping down sufficiently on their misuse. Allegedly people working for the Department of Veteran Affairs in particular have been using government credit cards to pay for luxury hotels, cinema trips, expensive meals in restaurants and casino bills. Reportedly there were 3.1 million purchases made last year which totalled $2.6 billion dollars, although the majority of this was appropriate spending.

This month the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said that they would accept the help which was offered to them by congress in order to address the issue. They may choose to pass a new bill which will allow them to fire employees for 'egregious abuse of government credit cards.' Cases where employees are suspected of fraud might also be passed on to federal prosecutors.

In a statement published on washingtonpost.com the deputy director of federal management issues at the OMB said: "The vast majority of civilian employees, government employees, use the cards responsibly. At the same time, I would say there is abuse, and the goal is zero, and we need to make it zero."

An investigative report released this month revealed that some government employees had used their expense account credit cards to buy cameras, laptop computers, high-end suits, lingerie and iPods. Previous reports also list baseball tickets, jewellery, cell phones and unbelievably, even escort services. One case shockingly included breast enhancement surgery for the employee's girlfriend. These issues are from a current investigation but a non-profit group called Project on Government Oversight which investigates governmental corruption said that they had flagged up the very same problem as long ago as 2002.

According to Stephen Barr the Federal Diarist: "In general, the "purchase card" programs were set up to permit employees to buy as much as $2,500 worth of goods and services that are necessary and reasonable for the operation of their agencies. The government contracts with five banks for credit cards in exchange for favorable interest rates and rebates. In fiscal 2007, the banks provided the government with more than $170 million in refunds."

The report also said that there are many different kinds of government credit cards. The cards focussed on in the report were 'purchase cards' which carry the employee's names and the bills are sent to agencies for payment. Employees are expected to reimburse these agencies for any purchases which are not considered acceptable government spending but rarely are employees questioned on suspicious items.

One example of this is a Navy employee who bought more than $900 dollars of office stationary supplies, including a $400 dollar digital camera and an iPod worth $200 dollars. Both the employee and the official who sanctioned his request said they both had no recollection of purchasing or processing these items. When the authorities asked whether these items had been converted to personal use or stolen, the Navy responded that these items had not been reported and could therefore not be located. The estimated amount of purchases which were not properly authorised is allegedly 41%.

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