Education Dept. Abusing Credit Cards - Taxpayer Money at Work...

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sun, 07/06/2008 - 11:54am.

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.

Auditors examining a sample of business travel expenses for fiscal 2006 found $18,256 in inappropriate charges made by 34 employees. The charges included payments to clothing retailers and restaurants near their homes or office.

Twenty-nine people used bank cards to withdraw about $17,600 more than allowed under the department's travel allowance for meals and incidentals. Four department workers made $13,570 in bank card withdrawals when they weren't on business travel. One logged 44 withdrawals totaling $8,560.

It could not be determined yesterday whether employees paid for the personal expenses they charged. The cards are issued to individual employees who are responsible for paying the bills but then seek reimbursement.

The July 1 report calls on the department to improve oversight of travel charge cards, which are only to be used for official travel, including to schools, conferences and training. "Inappropriate use of the travel card . . . represents abuse of a Government-provided resource, and compromises the integrity of the Department," the report says.

Employees questioned said they inadvertently used the cards to pay for personal expenses or charged meals at local restaurants with other department officials, the report says.

Auditors found that some employees were reimbursed for airfare and meals that had already been paid for with department funds. In addition, employees did not always provide proper documentation or explanations of costs.

Education Department officials did not dispute the findings and said cardholders will be required to take a refresher course on travel policies. The department also is considering implementing an electronic system to flag inappropriate use of the cards.

"We concur with the IG's findings and have a corrective action plan in place to address the IG's concerns," said Samara Yudof, spokeswoman for Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

The inspector general's office said the department failed to follow recommendations it laid out in a 2002 inquiry of the travel card program that also found lax controls. The new report noted that some employees who made inappropriate charges six years ago were flagged for problems this time.

The examination of 2006 accounts found that five accounts canceled when a worker retired or resigned had past-due balances of $31 to $9,858. Four other accounts were canceled because of "known misuse" or because the bill wasn't paid.

In addition to examining charges made on credit cards issued to individuals, the review included credit card accounts billed directly to department offices. Auditors flagged 20 cases of possible double-billing totaling $5,109, including instances where a transaction was billed both to a department account and an individual employee account.

Maria Glod - Washington Post Staff Writer - July 6, 2008 - source

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sun, 07/06/2008 - 11:54am.