Saturday, July 05, 2008

Abuse of Government Credit Cards

Via NewsAlert we learn about this Washington Post article about US Department of Education employees who have gone to town, literally, at taxpayer expense.

U.S. Department of Education employees inappropriately used government credit cards to purchase $49,500 worth of goods and services, including meals, items at clothing stores and rental cars, for personal use, according to a review by the department's inspector general.

I'm sure this is nothing new. When I was in the army our battalion (a unit with 500-600 men) had a credit card. I never understood why, as I couldn't fathom what we would need that the army wouldn't provide for us. Perhaps travel expenses, so the colonel wouldn't have to pay out of his own pocket if he needed to go to Fort Bliss or the Pentagon for official business? Maybe something like that.

For a time I held the job that made me responsible for reconciling the credit card statement. Turns out that I got that job at about the time our command sergeant major retired, and as I looked at the statement, I saw all these strange charges--for example, at golf courses--in places nowhere near our post. And each successive charge was further from post than the previous one, all in the direction that our command sergeant major was heading. When I brought this abuse up to the colonel, he said that the charges were authorized and to leave it at that.

So I left it at that. A few months later I was out of the army anyway.


Melissa B. said...

Government waste begets government waste! I lived in DC for 12 years, & you wouldn't BELIEVE how many folks go to their 70K a year jobs & do nothing but go to lunch & dinner on the government's nickle! To put life in a sharper (or at least funnier) perspective, today's Silly Sunday. Sharpen up that sense o' humor, and drop in to see me!

Anonymous said...

Darren, can you write about your military career? I've always been curious since I was first in your class.

Darren said...

Compared to what today's soldiers experience, my time in the army was brief and uneventful. And while I have a few stories--stories that are good at burning up the last 5 minutes of class before the bell rings--I certainly have nothing that merits any memoir.

If there are specific things you'd like to know about, ask away.

MikeAT said...

As I recall (and I am going from a 17 year old memory) that was a Diner’s Club travel card the CSM got. Back then relatively few people got a travel card (field grades, generals, senior NCOs) for their use. Most people, when they went TDY (in English for you non-military types, temporary duty) got a travel advance and gave the travel office a copy of your orders to get you a ticket. A few months after you got out I was speaking with the old PAC SGT and he told me the BN CDR was pissed at the CSM because he told him he would pay the bill.
I’ve had a government travel card since 1993 (First a Diner’s Club, then an America Express, now a Bank of America Visa and soon a MasterCard) and it’s a bigger pain in the ass than it’s worth. The idea was to give people who travel at least routinely (most officers and NCOs) a travel card so the government wouldn’t have to give travel advances. Back in the mid/late 90s these were practically handed out to anyone and of course there was no supervision. We started having 19 year olds with credit cards and you can imagine there were problems. So instead of fixing the problems the government, as usual, screwed it up again.
Now one thing my unit has been doing is deactivating the card until it’s actually needed (i.e. I tell the comptroller I will be going TDY and he turns it on). Personally I would rather just cut the damned thing up but I’ve been told “No, you can’t do that…” You’ll see why in a few.
One major problem is since 2001 DoD was requiring us to use these damned cards for travel expenses but it was taking three or more months to get a travel settlement. We suddenly had tens of thousands putting in travel vouchers and DoD travel pay was just overwhelmed. And of course we were told “You must pay the bill within 30 days or else…” It’s bad enough when I as a field grade gets this kind of crap…we make money and can often pay it until we get paid. The Army has 19 year old Specialists with a five thousand dollar balance told “you must pay now” and they can’t. But they can write their Congressmen and have started to.
I have my BA Visa and whenever I’ve used it I’ve gotten hate mail from my unit saying “Pay this …” and I’ve answered “I’ve put in my voucher within five days of completion of travel…that is the DoD standard…I’ve done what was required of me to get my money…now DoD can pay me within ten working days which is also the DoD standard and BA will get paid…or you can take this card and next time just advance me 80% like you used to…” Something about the travel voucher. On the top of it is a block for “amount paid directly to travel card”. So BA will get its money first.
Now to make this even more fun, back to the third paragraph, it used to be when I went TDY I would fax my orders to the travel agency and they would issue the ticket, directly billing the government off my orders. I have no doubt someone at BA “lobbied” a congressperson and now to get a TDY ticket we not only fax the orders but we have to give them our travel card number. The card is charged and we have to put that on our travel voucher (Ticket and Travel Agent Charge). What a crock.
I went TDY to Camp Parks CA last month and the only thing I used my travel card for was the ticket. I submitted my voucher within a week and I’m expecting the “Pay this or die” notes within a few weeks. And again I will tell them “You pay me in a timely fashion, like you’re supposed to, and Bank of America is paid in a timely fashion.”
Now there is a system coming online that will fix this system. Instead of submitting a hardcopy travel voucher it’s online. You’re paid within 48 hours. It’s great…or so I hear. It’s only for the active component. Reserve and National Guard don’t get it for a couple of more years. But we’re all one team one fight…and if you believe that crap!
In early January 2008 the commander of US Army Reserve Command was going to “get to the bottom” of untimely travel card payments. General, I’ll give you a hint. DoD is not paying travel vouchers in a timely manner as they are required to and when you have a 19 year old Specialist making 2500 a month told “You must submit this 3000 payment now” it’s kinda hard to get the blood from a turnip. Unscrew Defense Finance and Accounting and put the Guard/Reserve on the online travel voucher system I’ll bet your problems will go away.
This is one thing I won’t miss once I take my uniform off for the final time.