Ten years ago, Congress created a new system of government credit cards for federal employees booking work-related travel. The cards were meant to curb waste and abuse. But since their introduction, charges have doubled—from $4.39 billion in 1999 to $8.28 billion last year.
Among the expenses flagged in a new report from the Congressional Research Service: $3700 for laser eye surgery, $4100 for a first-class trip to Hawaii, and $100 million in unclaimed refunds for airline tickets that were purchased but never used.
“The Obama Administration came in promising to cut waste, and this is really the low-hanging fruit,” says Scott Amey, general counsel to the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight.
Despite guidelines from the Office of Management and Budget, oversight of employee spending has been inconsistent at best. Now, Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) has introduced a bill that would require inspectors general in each agency to monitor the use of government credit cards more closely. Abusers could face criminal charges, be fired, or be required to reimburse the government for losses.
When he introduced the measure this spring, Grassley cited Congressional investigations that found that government travel cards had been used to pay for gambling, sporting events, concerts, cruises, and even gentlemen’s clubs and legalized brothels.
“Clearly, we still have a problem,” the Senator says.
— J. Scott Orr, Parade Magazine July 2009