The federal government is no stranger to waste—some examples are egregious. From July 2013 through June 2014, over 4,000 transactions, worth just short of $1 million, were conducted at casinos using the Department of Defense’s government travel cards.
Furthermore, nine hundred transactions, totaling $96,576, were made at “adult entertainment establishments.” As of May, 2015, only 41 percent of such actions went punished, with possible punishments including a “letter of reprimand.”
Originally adopted in 1998, the Travel and Transportation Reform Act sought to simplify the process of paying for the travel of federal employees by mandating usage of travel cards. These credit cards, managed by individual government agencies, have repeatedly proven to be a primary source of bureaucratic fraud against the American taxpayer.
Five short years after travel card implementation, reports of widespread misuse began to surface. Examples include unauthorized first-class trips to Hawaii funded by the Department of State and tens of thousands of dollars in “training” at golf and tennis resorts using funds meant to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina.
According to the Project on Government Oversight, a non-profit and non-partisan organization intent on exposing government misconduct, over $600,000 in funding allocated to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts was “considered unauthorized, lost, or stolen” through the abuse of government purchase cards.
Furthermore, the Internal Revenue Service has also reported instances of their government-issued credit cards being used to purchase everything from diet pills to alcohol and pornography.
Congress attempted to reform the clearly broken system in 2012, with the Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, but this did little to actually quell such abuses. This legislation attempted to integrate control measures such as preventing double-reimbursement, requiring semi-annual reports and annual audits, and instituting outlined penalties for violating parties.
Unfortunately, it proved ineffective. The act’s policies did not implement systems capable of catching all (or even a majority of) fraud and were oftentimes poorly enforced.
These failures became apparent almost immediately after the act’s implementation. A recent report by the Department of Defense painted a fuller picture of particularly egregious abuse.
A second attempt at reform is currently underway.
In December, the Senate passed a bill with bipartisan support mandating the establishment of an Office of Federal Charge Card Analytics and Review. Intent on providing both analytical tools and human-driven oversight, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., has called the bill “commonsense legislation.”
This abuse also raises the larger question of overall fiscal responsibility. With our nation’s debt at an all-time high, repeated abuse of taxpayer dollars demonstrates that agency budgets are not as lean as they could (and should) be.
Congress should not shy away from enforcing the discretionary cap reductions imposed by sequestration to reduce federal agency budgets. One blunt tool to encourage better internal controls by agencies of their travel cards is to increase the motivation of bureaucrats to better monitor how dollars are spent by tightening their budgets.
Taxpayers who’ve had to tighten their belts deserve no less from their government.