Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gummint workers abusing credit cards

When I was in Washington DC during the 1970s, both in my job as a congressional aide and when I was writing columns I used to read a lot of GAO reports (it was the General Accounting Office then, and they've renamed it, reflecting more hope than reality, the Government Accountability Office), and most of them were really excellent, documenting problems or abuses in government offices and suggesting ways to improve the situation. But there was an interesting pattern. Many of the reports read something like: "We identified these problems in our report 7 years ago and when we reported again 3 years ago little or nothing had improved and now things are even worse." The GAO did a good job of identifying problems but the agencies never seemed to improve their performance -- not surprisingly since they were not punished except by the embarrassment of a report.

The pattern seems constant. As this Register editorial notes, abuse of government credit cards was identified as a serious problem at least as long ago as 2001, and the problem remains, according to the GAO report. My favorite is the Forest Service employee who managed to write "convenience checks"totaling more than $500,000 over a five-year period to her live-in boyfriend, who used the money to feed his gambling habit. Pretty convenient.

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