WASHINGTON – Efforts to cut credit card abuse by military personnel have not stemmed the flow of cash into the pockets of Pentagon employees using cards designated for business expenses.
A House panel learned Wednesday that some Department of Defense personnel apparently went on a Christmas shopping spree with their government purchase cards, originally administered to cut down on paper expense reports.
One Navy employee was promoted to an Army financial management office, where she was put in charge of "cash integration" even after being investigated for charging nearly $12,000 in personal expenses on her government credit card.
"When you put one of these cases under the microscope, it seems like the whole problem comes into much sharper focus," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who testified before the House Government Reform subcommittee on government efficiency, financial management and intergovernmental relations.
Grassley said Tanya Mays was never disciplined and has never been asked to repay the government for any of the purchases, which included a computer, a kitchen appliance, clothing and groceries.
Congress' investigative arm, the General Accounting Office has been investigating credit card abuses by the 1.7 million Pentagon employees who have government charge cards.
More than 46,000 Defense Department employees had defaulted on $623 million in official travel expenses charged to the government cards as of last November, Grassley said. The bad debts, which banks that issue the cards have been forced to write off, are growing at the rate of $1 million a month.
Defense Department officials say they are working on training programs to help card holders understand their responsibilities and know what is legitimate purchase and what is not. They also said they are working on internal controls to watch who spends what on their cards.
Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., chairman of the subcommittee, said he is going to ask Attorney General John Ashcroft why the U.S. Attorney's office in San Diego decided not to prosecute Navy personnel in San Diego who racked up at least $660,000 in personal purchases last year.
Grassley added that he will ask Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld what action will be taken against 713 commissioned officers who have defaulted on $1.1 million in charges on their government-issued travel cards. The accounts, which have balances of up to $8,000, have been left unpaid for seven months.
"Somebody over in the Pentagon needs to come down hard on the officer scofflaws. Credit card abuse in the military will never stop until the officers clean up their act," Grassley said.
Evidence of unauthorized personal purchases by Mays was uncovered last summer by GAO investigators auditing the Navy Public Works Department in San Diego. The case was referred to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, but an assistant U.S. attorney in San Diego declined to prosecute. Mays was promoted in October.
The discovery of the unpaid cards led to congressional hearings last August. More hearings are expected in May, including one by a House subcommittee on education that is looking into abuses of government purchase cards in the Department of Education.
Fox News' Molly Henneberg and the Associated Press contributed to this report.