WASHINGTON – Federal employees are going online to sell mass transit fare cards the government buys for them, congressional auditors say.
Employees also are exaggerating their commuting costs, and some continue to receive transportation subsidies after leaving the government.
Abuses in the mass transit benefits program for government workers are wasting tens of millions of dollars (euros) each year, says Congress' Government Accountability Office.
Using seven agencies' mass transit records, investigators found at least $17 million in fraudulent transit benefits claimed in the Washington metropolitan area during 2006. That amount "could be millions more" if fraud exists in the dozens of agencies the GAO did not review, auditors say in testimony prepared for a Senate hearing Tuesday.
In three days of online searches, the GAO found at least 20 federal employees who were fraudulently selling their fare cards on eBay. Posing as buyers, investigators bought benefits from three employees on Craigslist. In other cases, employees claimed benefits while on leave, gave the cards to friends and family or used them for personal travel.
One Treasury Department employee drove to work, parked for free and collected $105 per month in Metro fare cards, most of which he sold on eBay. A Commerce Department worker left in 2001, but the agency sent her $65 per month in transit benefits until she moved to a new address in 2006.
"The waste and fraud in this program is not a result of someone being asleep at the wheel, but rather it's a case of no one being behind the wheel at all," said Sen. Norm Coleman, senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's investigations subcommittee.
The transit program provides benefits to about 250,000 federal government employees nationwide, who claimed roughly $250 million in travel subsidies during fiscal year 2006. About 120,000 of the participants live in Washington and its suburbs in the states of Maryland and Virginia.
The transit benefits program is aimed at encouraging federal employees to use mass transit as a way to curb traffic congestion and air pollution especially in the capital area.
The federal government distributes vouchers or cards to employees nationwide that allow them to take buses, regional trains or an area's rail system to work. The benefit is free to employees and tax-exempt.
Employees are prohibited from transferring or selling their transit benefits and are supposed to return unused money. They must certify they are using the subsidies for commuting purposes and say they understand selling or transferring the subsidies is prohibited.
The Transportation Department administers the program for roughly 75 percent of the federal government.