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GAO: Millions wasted on gov't cards (for internet dating,lavish dinners,lingerie, etc.)
AP on Yahoo ^ | 4/8/08 | Hope Yen - ap

Posted on 04/08/2008 6:14:57 PM PDT by NormsRevenge

WASHINGTON - Federal employees charged millions of dollars for Internet dating, tailor-made suits, lingerie, lavish dinners and other questionable expenses to their government credit cards over a 15-month period, congressional auditors say.

A report by the Government Accountability Office, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, examined spending controls across the federal government following reports of credit-card abuse at departments including Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

The review of card spending at more than a dozen departments from 2005 to 2006 found that nearly 41 percent of roughly $14 billion in credit-card purchases, whether legitimate or questionable, did not follow procedure — either because they were not properly authorized or they had not been signed for by an independent third party as called for in federal rules to deter fraud.

For purchases over $2,500, nearly half — or 48 percent — were unauthorized or improperly received.

Out of a sample of purchases totaling $2.7 million, the government could not account for hundreds of laptop computers, iPods and digital cameras worth more than $1.8 million. In one case, the U.S. Army could not say what happened to computer items making up 16 server configurations, each of which cost nearly $100,000.

Agencies often could not provide the required paperwork to justify questionable purchases. Investigators also found that federal employees sometimes double-billed or improperly expensed lavish meals and Internet dating for many months without question from supervisors; the charges were often noticed only after auditors or whistle-blowers raised questions.

"Breakdowns in internal controls over the use of purchase cards leave the government highly vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse," investigators wrote, calling the governmentwide failure rate in enforcing controls "unacceptably high."

"This audit demonstrates that continued vigilance over purchase card use is necessary," the 57-page report stated.

The report calls for the General Services Administration and Office of Management and Budget, both of which help administer the government's credit-card program, to set guidance to improve accounting for purchased items, particularly Palm Pilots, iPods and other electronic equipment that could be easily stolen.

OMB and GSA were also urged to tighten controls over convenience checks, which are a part of the credit-card program, and to remind federal employees that they will be held responsible for any items if the purchases are later deemed improper.

In response, both OMB and GSA agreed with portions of the report. But GSA administrator Lurita Doan noted the vast majority of federal employees use their cards properly and that many oversight measures already are in place. She acknowledged there is room for improvement but added that by using purchase cards the federal government saves about $1.8 billion in administrative costs each year.

"We agree that no level of abuse or misuse is acceptable," Doan wrote.

The GAO study comes amid increasing scrutiny of purchase cards, which are used by 300,000 federal employees and are directly payable by the U.S. government.

The AP reported Sunday that VA employees last year racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in government credit-card bills at casino and luxury hotels, movie theaters and high-end retailers such as Sharper Image. Government auditors have been investigating these and similar charges, citing past spending abuses.

In Tuesday's report, investigators did not seek to determine the extent of fraud or waste at each agency. They cited numerous cases of questionable spending, which they said represented what could be found government-wide, including the VA.

"The purchase card is a useful tool for the government, and in no way are we suggesting it shouldn't continue to be used widely," said Gregory D. Kutz, GAO's managing director of forensic audits and special investigations, in a telephone interview. "However, I would say these cases once again show that lack of internal controls cost taxpayers millions of dollars and thus continued focus is needed on improving these controls."

Among the expenditures cited in the report:

_An Agriculture Department employee fraudulently wrote 180 convenience checks for more than $642,000 to a live-in boyfriend over a six-year period. The money was used for gambling, car and mortgage payments, dinners and retail purchases that went unnoticed until USDA's inspector general received a tip from a whistle-blower. The employee, who pleaded guilty to embezzlement and tax fraud charges, was sentenced last year to 21 months in prison and ordered to repay the money.

_U.S. Postal Service workers separately billed more than $14,000 to government credit cards for Internet dating services and a dinner at a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Orlando, Fla., for 81 people at a cost of $160 each for steaks and crab. The dinner bill also included more than 200 appetizers and more than $3,000 worth of wine and brand-name liquor such as Courvoisier, Belvedere and Johnny Walker Gold.

In the Internet dating case, a postmaster charged $1,100 over 15 months for two online services, including the Ashley Madison Agency. The expenses went unnoticed for more than a year even though he was under internal investigation for viewing pornography on a government computer. The postmaster was eventually told to repay the Internet charges but faced no disciplinary action.

_At the Pentagon, four employees purchased $77,700 in clothing and accessories at high-end clothing and sporting goods stores. The spending included more than $45,000 at Brooks Brothers and similar stores for tailor-made suits — $7,000 of which were purchased a week before Christmas. The credit-card holders said the items were for service members working at U.S. embassies with civilian attire. Pentagon rules allow purchases of civilian clothing when performing official duty, but generally only up to $860 per person.

_Justice Department and FBI employees charged $11,000 at a Ritz Carlton hotel for coffee and "light" refreshments for 50 to 70 attendees for four days, averaging about $50 per person. Seventy percent of the total conference cost of $15,000 was for the food and beverages, while audiovisual and other support services totaled only about $4,000, or 30 percent of the charges. It was not clear what action, if any, that Justice took in light of the conference expenses, which GAO deemed excessive.

_At the State Department, one credit-card holder bought $360 worth of women's lingerie at Seduccion Boutique for use during jungle training by trainees of a drug enforcement program in Ecuador. One State Department official later agreed that the charge was questionable and stated that he would not have approved the purchase had he known about it.

"Too many government employees have viewed purchase cards as their personal line of credit," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on investigations, which requested the GAO report. "When money that was intended to pay for critical infrastructure, education and homeland security is instead being spent on iPods, lingerie and socializing, we must immediately remedy the problem."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who chairs the investigations subcommittee, agreed. "Although internal controls over government credit cards have improved, we still have a long way to go to stop the fraudulent use of these cards," he said.


TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Front Page News; Government; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: creditcards; gao; government; govwatch; millions; wasted
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1 posted on 04/08/2008 6:14:58 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
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_At the State Department, one credit-card holder bought $360 worth of women's lingerie at Seduccion Boutique for use during jungle training by trainees of a drug enforcement program in Ecuador. One State Department official later agreed that the charge was questionable and stated that he would not have approved the purchase had he known about it.
2 posted on 04/08/2008 6:17:06 PM PDT by NormsRevenge (Semper Fi ... Godspeed ... ICE’s toll-free tip hotline —1-866-DHS-2-ICE ... 9/11 .. Never FoRGeT)
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Out of a sample of purchases totaling $2.7 million, the government could not account for hundreds of laptop computers, iPods and digital cameras worth more than $1.8 million. In one case, the U.S. Army could not say what happened to computer items making up 16 server configurations, each of which cost nearly $100,000.


3 posted on 04/08/2008 6:17:51 PM PDT by NormsRevenge (Semper Fi ... Godspeed ... ICE’s toll-free tip hotline —1-866-DHS-2-ICE ... 9/11 .. Never FoRGeT)
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To: Liz

ROFL

Look at Norm’s highlight at post 2.


4 posted on 04/08/2008 6:18:02 PM PDT by Calpernia (Hunters Rangers - Raising the Bar of Integrity http://www.barofintegrity.us)
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To: NormsRevenge

We should give the federal gov’t and its employees more money, more power and less oversight....

sayeth the left.


5 posted on 04/08/2008 6:18:24 PM PDT by MrB (You can't reason people out of a position that they didn't use reason to get into in the first place)
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To: NormsRevenge

While the idiots are violating the rules associated with the use of these credit cards it should be pointed out that the government is not responsible for the charges made on the cards, the individual is.


6 posted on 04/08/2008 6:19:13 PM PDT by big'ol_freeper ("Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words". ~ St. Francis of Assisi)
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To: NormsRevenge
Our Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs tax money.

God bless the GAO. One wonders how it got this far, however.

7 posted on 04/08/2008 6:19:43 PM PDT by firebrand
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Pedestrians walk by a Sharper Image store in Beverly Hills, Calif. in this Feb. 27, 2008 file photo. Veterans Affairs employees last year racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in government credit-card bills at casino and luxury hotels, movie theaters and high-end retailers such as The Sharper Image and Franklin Covey - and government auditors are investigating, citing past spending abuses. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)


8 posted on 04/08/2008 6:21:02 PM PDT by NormsRevenge (Semper Fi ... Godspeed ... ICE’s toll-free tip hotline —1-866-DHS-2-ICE ... 9/11 .. Never FoRGeT)
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To: NormsRevenge
They're painting a picture using a pretty broad brush. The 5 years that I was the approving official for 7 card holders on two different master accounts, I had to reconcile every purchase every month down to the last penny. I was audited annually by the finance Nazi's who questioned every purchase that I approved. I can't speak for the other services, but the Air Force generally has a tight reign on the use of the Government Purchase Card.

-Traveler

9 posted on 04/08/2008 6:21:07 PM PDT by Traveler59 (Truth is a journey, not a destination.)
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To: NormsRevenge
women's lingerie at Seduccion Boutique for use during jungle training

LOLOL, Jungle training...the advantages of having an immature mind. :)

10 posted on 04/08/2008 6:21:34 PM PDT by GOP_Raider (Let's Get Cup Crazy! Let's Go Sharks!)
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To: NormsRevenge

Go back to the Clinton Admin.....how much was spent then? Maybe we don’t want to know.


11 posted on 04/08/2008 6:21:40 PM PDT by RC2
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To: NormsRevenge

SHOCKED!......NOT.
Is there Any Gov”t Employee who isn’t in a pig trough Union?
Are these same Weaselly employees NOT protected from being fired or even reprimanded?

I just wanna PUKE!


12 posted on 04/08/2008 6:21:57 PM PDT by acapesket (never had a vote count in all my years here)
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To: NormsRevenge

Go back to the Clinton Admin.....how much was spent then? Maybe we don’t want to know.


13 posted on 04/08/2008 6:22:01 PM PDT by RC2
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To: big'ol_freeper
If that is true, why is additional tax money going to GAO investigations of this?

Or are the individuals responsible only once they get caught?

14 posted on 04/08/2008 6:22:25 PM PDT by firebrand
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To: NormsRevenge
["one credit-card holder bought $360 worth of women's lingerie at Seduccion Boutique for use during jungle training by trainees of a drug enforcement program in Ecuador."]


15 posted on 04/08/2008 6:23:04 PM PDT by Mad_Tom_Rackham ("The land of the Free...Because of the Brave")
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To: NormsRevenge

Government has no intention of ever really reforming itself.


16 posted on 04/08/2008 6:23:16 PM PDT by avenir
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To: big'ol_freeper

>>>it should be pointed out that the government is not responsible for the charges made on the cards, the individual is.

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/1998755/posts?page=3#3


17 posted on 04/08/2008 6:23:20 PM PDT by Calpernia (Hunters Rangers - Raising the Bar of Integrity http://www.barofintegrity.us)
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To: NormsRevenge

They should fire all of them.


18 posted on 04/08/2008 6:23:21 PM PDT by Racer1
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To: NormsRevenge
Can you imagine what would happen if we gave the federal government the responsibility and funding for national health care?

Oy!

19 posted on 04/08/2008 6:23:50 PM PDT by HoosierHawk
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To: NormsRevenge

ROTFLOL!!!

I guess the strategy was to lure the drug guys out of the jungle with a sexy woman wearing lingerie from “Seduction Boutique”


20 posted on 04/08/2008 6:24:03 PM PDT by Fox_Mulder77
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To: NormsRevenge

Find them, fire them, prosecute them (and their managers) and make them pay back all misspent funds.

Wishful thinking … I live in a fantasy world. ;-)


21 posted on 04/08/2008 6:25:38 PM PDT by doc1019 (God is in control ... not Global Warming.)
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To: NormsRevenge

Fire every single one of these f-ing parasites. If I abused my company credit card like this my boss would rip me a new orifice.


22 posted on 04/08/2008 6:26:03 PM PDT by lesser_satan
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To: callisto; Darksheare
At the State Department, one credit-card holder bought $360 worth of women's lingerie at Seduccion Boutique for use during jungle training by trainees of a drug enforcement program in Ecuador.

I don't suppose either of you know anything about this?

23 posted on 04/08/2008 6:27:09 PM PDT by Grizzled Bear ("Does not play well with others.")
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To: Traveler59

I did the same in private industry and was not very popular with some.(there were some reimbursements)

but what about your counterparts in the Pentagon?? It seems there was a story a while back about credit card use in WDC.


24 posted on 04/08/2008 6:27:53 PM PDT by elpadre
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To: Traveler59
You are, I think, the exception. My only question is why these cards are needed at all. They look to be an invitation to waste, fraud and abuse. I've worked for a number of very large entities and, with one exception, NEVER had, or needed, a Company Credit Card. Advances and use of my own cards was always sufficient and, at times, my monthly expenses exceeded $20,000.

Related - I'll bet nothing is ever done about this other than a reprimand with little, if any, restitution and penalties.

25 posted on 04/08/2008 6:28:05 PM PDT by TCats (The Clintons Are Not Just Wrong - They Are Certifiable AND Dangerous! See my Page)
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To: NormsRevenge

And these are the people they want IN CHARGE of YOUR HEALTHCARE!!!!!!


26 posted on 04/08/2008 6:28:53 PM PDT by goodnesswins (Being Challenged Builds Character; Being Coddled Destroys Character)
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To: NormsRevenge

“women’s lingerie at Seduccion Boutique for use during jungle training”

Things can get tough in the bush.


27 posted on 04/08/2008 6:29:53 PM PDT by toddlintown (On Obama's moral compass, "N" doesn't stand for "North.")
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To: firebrand

Nope, it’s just like a charge card that you would procure. From the federal travel regulation:

Cardholders are personally responsible for all items billed to the card, unless the card was reported lost or stolen. Employees shall pay the contractor in accordance with the contractor bank payment terms. These responsibilities are explained in the Cardholder Agreement that each employee signs during the application process. Furthermore, employees are not relieved of their obligation to pay the travel charge card bill in those rare instances when the agency has not reimbursed the traveler within the 30-days after receipt of a timely submitted voucher. (FTR 301-52.24)

Where the regulation refers to reimbursement they are referring to the per diem allowances, air fare or mileage, rental car expense and hotel costs that a traveler may claim.

You have a point about the cost of the investigation, but the fact is that these folks are violating the law, it’s just that the violations actually cost taxpayers zero.

I believe the only reason it’s an issue is that part of the contract with VISA is to hold down the incidents of individuals defaulting on the cards.


28 posted on 04/08/2008 6:29:58 PM PDT by big'ol_freeper ("Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words". ~ St. Francis of Assisi)
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To: lesser_satan

A fellow employee bought a repair part for his outboard motor. He was gone in 3 days after submitting his expenses.


29 posted on 04/08/2008 6:31:42 PM PDT by HoosierHawk
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To: Traveler59
They're painting a picture using a pretty broad brush. The 5 years that I was the approving official for 7 card holders on two different master accounts, I had to reconcile every purchase every month down to the last penny.

I was the AOPC for my unit. The card holders HATED me.

If something REALLY looked bad it was passed to the First Sergeant or Commander. I gave the Commander a list of overdue bills once per week. I would give the Flight leadership heads up the week before. They could bring proof of payment to the Commander's Staff meeting...or have time to work on a really good tap dance routine.

30 posted on 04/08/2008 6:32:14 PM PDT by Grizzled Bear ("Does not play well with others.")
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To: big'ol_freeper
Nope, it’s just like a charge card that you would procure. From the federal travel regulation:

You're talking about a govt TRAVEL card. (I have one, too.) These guys were abusing govt PURCHASE cards. Different critters.

31 posted on 04/08/2008 6:32:29 PM PDT by weaponeer
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To: Traveler59
I was audited annually by the finance Nazi's who questioned every purchase that I approved. I can't speak for the other services, but the Air Force generally has a tight reign on the use of the Government Purchase Card.

I was thinking along those same lines for the USPS! Our finance department is after us if we pay taxes on hotel rooms (instead of providing tax exempt forms, where hotels accept them), let alone do anything else inappropriate. I know someone who was "fired" (actually, allowed to take unpaid leave for the year till he was eligible for retirement) for taking cash advances against his card (for gambling). I don't think the Postmaster in the article can possibly work for the same USPS I do...

32 posted on 04/08/2008 6:32:32 PM PDT by Kay Ludlow (Free market, but cautious about what I support with my dollars)
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To: goodnesswins

And just WHO has been president for the past eight years? A supposed compassionate “conservative”. A real case of don’t care, won’t do anything, and won’t put competent people in charge of these agencies. Think about it when you pay your tax bill next week.


33 posted on 04/08/2008 6:33:03 PM PDT by laconic (ence)
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To: big'ol_freeper

That makes some sense. So I can see why it has become an issue now, with credit card credit falling through a black hole.


34 posted on 04/08/2008 6:33:27 PM PDT by firebrand
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To: NormsRevenge
So what else is new, no one ever makes these clowns accountable.
35 posted on 04/08/2008 6:34:19 PM PDT by org.whodat (What's the difference between a Democrat and a republican????)
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To: HoosierHawk
"Can you imagine what would happen if we gave the federal government the responsibility and funding for national health care?"

I've got news for you. The Gov't already has dominion over the administration of Billions and Billions of our Health Care Tax Dollars in the form of Medicare and Medicaid.

Ask anyone who is involved in either the administration or use of these fraud machines about them. All of the efficiency of the Post Office or IRS lubricated with the grease of the Third Party Payer Syndrome.

36 posted on 04/08/2008 6:36:21 PM PDT by TCats (The Clintons Are Not Just Wrong - They Are Certifiable AND Dangerous! See my Page)
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To: HoosierHawk

Yep. I accidentally bought lunch at the drive-through with mine (my company card and one of my personal cards have the same color-scheme, it’s easy to mix them up) and accounting made me pay it back.


37 posted on 04/08/2008 6:39:20 PM PDT by lesser_satan
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To: NormsRevenge

Here’s a different perspective:

The government FORCES government employees to use the government card for travel. You cannot use your own credit card, because they have a contract that forces you to use theirs. If you carry the government card, which is forced on you, there’s always the possibility you can charge something accidentally on it.

There are two types of government cards. The IMPAC card is used for organization purchases. The individual cards are issued to every government employee for travel expenses. IMPAC abuse is a completely different issue than travel card abuse.

Personally, I don’t see a big problem so long as the employee pays off any charges on his travel card. If the government allowed people to use personal cards, there’s no doubt the government cards would be mostly destroyed (personal cards can give rebates or other bonuses the government card doesn’t provide).

As for IMPAC abuse, don’t ask me where that comes from, as the government card managers generally watch IMPAC purchasers very closely. However, so long as it can be proved the purchases are for government use, what’s the issue? Again, the government forces organizations to use these cards for purchases that used to be controlled by the government supply system. If abuse is proven, fire or fine the employee as necessary.

Having dealt with the government for many, many years, I can tell you anyone who wants to give greater power to government is a complete fool. Government does nothing efficiently or economically. That’s a fact!


38 posted on 04/08/2008 6:41:16 PM PDT by CitizenUSA (Member of CRAM - Conservative Resigned to Accept McCain)
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To: NormsRevenge

Unless someone gets enough intestinal fortitude to pick about 1,000 bureaucrats and prosecute them and jail them (not that phony “allowing those crooks to retire with full pensions” crap) this will never end. No President has the guts to take on the corrupt federal bureaucracy. Certainly none of the 3 candidates have that courage.


39 posted on 04/08/2008 6:42:35 PM PDT by Seruzawa (A skeleton walks into a bar and asks for a beer and a mop.)
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To: Seruzawa

I don’t think government employees are any more corrupt than private ones. True, there are some who are bad, but most are generally decent people who want to do a good job.

The problem is the system itself. No organization as big and powerful as government can possibly be operated efficiently. It’s just not possible.

That’s why it’s vitally important for conservatives to try and reduce government. It’s the fundamental flaw of compassionate conservatives in my opinion. They have noble goals but they are relying on government to get them done. That’s a fool’s errand for sure.

It is IMPOSSIBLE to make government efficient. It might be made more efficient, but it will never be as good as the private sector. Why idiots want to give up more freedoms to the behemoth is beyond me, but there are no shortage of lib Democrats. Amazing, isn’t it?


40 posted on 04/08/2008 6:53:04 PM PDT by CitizenUSA (Member of CRAM - Conservative Resigned to Accept McCain)
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To: firebrand
If that is true, why is additional tax money going to GAO investigations of this?

Or are the individuals responsible only once they get caught?

I guess the answer is neither, remember the defense department lady who paid for her daughters ten thousand dollar wedding and the one that bought herself a new mustang. Rumsfeld never fired either one as far as I remember.

41 posted on 04/08/2008 6:53:42 PM PDT by org.whodat (What's the difference between a Democrat and a republican????)
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To: NormsRevenge
"Too many government employees have viewed purchase cards as their personal line of credit," said Sen. Norm Coleman...

Sens. Coleman and Levins are two of many tyrants sitting on Capitol Hill. Like George III, against whom Americans fought for independence over two and a quarter centuries ago, they have "erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance."

The solution to problems in government is always more government. We are no longer being governed; we are being ruled, and only because Americans refused to put their foot down for so many decades. Too many Congress critters view you and me as their own personal lines of credit. And, after all, if the top bananas in Washington can get away with it, then why should their underlings (stupid bureaucrats) give a damn either?

That said, this goes doubly for the State and local governments.

42 posted on 04/08/2008 6:55:38 PM PDT by rabscuttle385 (I have great faith in the American people. I have no faith in the American government, however.)
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To: laconic
We're talking a million employees or more, with the USPS.

And who knows how many middle managers and assistants to assistants to nowhere.

Do you seriously expect a POTUS to address this issue, or even be aware of it?

I'm sure some of these employees have been on the job for 30+ years and are protected by their union.

43 posted on 04/08/2008 6:55:40 PM PDT by HoosierHawk
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To: NormsRevenge
Actual there is a simple fix for this, put all credit card transactions on line, anyone that finds fraud gets 50% of the fraud amount from the assets of the crook former government employee.
44 posted on 04/08/2008 6:58:05 PM PDT by org.whodat (What's the difference between a Democrat and a republican????)
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To: laconic
Think about it when you pay your tax bill next week.

Oh, I will. That's for sure.

45 posted on 04/08/2008 6:59:17 PM PDT by rabscuttle385 (I have great faith in the American people. I have no faith in the American government, however.)
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To: CitizenUSA
The problem is the system itself.

Stealing is as wrong in the public sector as it is in the private sector.

46 posted on 04/08/2008 7:01:52 PM PDT by HoosierHawk
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To: TCats; xzins; P-Marlowe
You are, I think, the exception. My only question is why these cards are needed at all. They look to be an invitation to waste, fraud and abuse. I've worked for a number of very large entities and, with one exception, NEVER had, or needed, a Company Credit Card. Advances and use of my own cards was always sufficient and, at times, my monthly expenses exceeded $20,000.

I'm Army. I have one for government travel. Need it because I'm TDY, and the logistics of settling my lodging & meals is easier than reimbursing me on a travel voucher.

But I use mine very judiciously.

47 posted on 04/08/2008 7:06:01 PM PDT by jude24 (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?)
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To: org.whodat
Actually, I've had that type of solution in mind for Medicare/Medicaid fraud prevention.

Send the recipient of the services a copy of the claim from the provider and then give VERY generous rewards for those who report fraud. (The rewards funded out of the very Draconian fines levied against offenders)

48 posted on 04/08/2008 7:09:48 PM PDT by TCats
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To: HoosierHawk

It’s only theft if the employee doesn’t pay for the charges. I’m not justifying misuse of the cards, but it’s not surprising giving the millions of government employees and cards out there. It’s just another reason why people should be taking power AWAY from government, not giving it more.


49 posted on 04/08/2008 7:13:40 PM PDT by CitizenUSA (Member of CRAM - Conservative Resigned to Accept McCain)
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To: NormsRevenge

Fire every one, like the private sector would do, no questions asked.


50 posted on 04/08/2008 7:20:00 PM PDT by fedupjohn (If we try to fight the war on terror with eyes shut + ears packed with wax, innocent people will die)
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