Published May 24, 2010
Most employees caught stealing from a company would expect to be fired, forced to return what they took or worse. But a group of government employees accused of going on a massive shopping spree with taxpayer money have yet to face any disciplinary action.
During an 18-month period while the Federal Protective Service was moved from the General Services Administration to the Department of Homeland Security, employees spent thousands of government dollars on everything from clothing and flat-screen TVs to gym memberships and tuition payments, according to the General Services Administration inspector general's office.
But two referrals to federal prosecutors have resulted in no criminal charges in the case, The Washington Times reported Monday.
Investigators said the 21 employees hid more than $100,000 worth of "unauthorized" purchases made with government cards in 2003 and 2004 by not logging them into the computer system that processes the agency's financial transactions.
After the findings of the five-year investigation into the matter were revealed in September, three employees resigned, four retired and five employees faced possible reprimand. No action was taken against nine others, the Times reported.
The abuse of government charge cards is hardly a new problem.
A March 2008 report issued by Government Accountability Office estimated that “nearly 41 percent” of purchase card transactions made from July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2006 failed to meet “basic internal control standards.”
One cardholder embezzle more than $642,000 over 6 years from the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service firefighting fund “for personal expenditures, such as gambling, car and mortgage payments” but wasn’t caught until a whistleblower turned her in, the GAO report said.
That cardholder was sentenced to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of more than $642,000.
In addition, the report said agencies were unable to locate 458 of the 1,058 expensed items the GAO had selected for testing, totaling over $1.8 million in missing goods like “computer servers, laptop computers, iPods, and digital cameras.”
Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste, says more needs to be done to stop this kind of abuse.
"According to the report the FBS workers have absolutely had no consequences. And by consequences I mean punitive but also restitution,” Paige told FoxNews.com. “I don’t know why Congress is not moving to force them to claw the money back. There should be a claw back measure for sure when people have transgressed in this kind of a way whether it rises to the level of criminal prosecution or not."
Paige said since the last GAO report on the issue there’s been an “explosion” in the number of government purchase cards, with 300,000 federal employees currently carrying them. By turning a blind eye when they are abused, she says, the government is inviting more of the behavior.
“If the worst you get is not even a slap on the wrist, you’re not made to pay the money back, you don’t have your name published, you don’t get drummed out of your job, if there are no consequences for this behavior, you’re going to see more and more of it,” Paige said.
The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment over the phone and has not yet responded to emails from FoxNews.com regarding this issue.