The misuse of government charge cards has been in the news on a regular basis. Every few months, an agency’s Inspector General or GAO goes into an agency and investigates how charge cards are being used within an agency.
The result is usually the same: examples of waste, fraud and abuse. In some agencies the situation is worse than in others and, in at least one case, an investigation found evidence of a kiting scheme, an event usually associated with crime figures rather than with federal employees.
The system seemed so out-of-control in this one case, it prompted an article entitled "Where’s the Outrage" by an attorney and former ethics advisor for federal employees.
What are federal agencies doing to combat the problem? Admittedly, we have been curious if there is much concern over the issue or if, based on comments from readers, many agencies consider the problem of fraud and abuse to be a minor issue that isn’t worth spending much time worrying about.
One astute reader sent to FedSmith.com the advice given to managers in one agency on how to combat the problem of charge card abuse. The author of this advice is a federal employee within the Department of Transportation. Here is the advice that is being given to managers within the Federal Aviation Administration on how to deal with problems of charge card abuse.
Our thanks to our reader for passing along the information. In the hope it will be useful to a few thousand more federal managers, supervisors or concerned employees, here is the advice that was handed out in one agency on how to prevent federal charge card problems.
Travel Charge Cards – The Beat Goes on…
Like any form of potential misconduct, these issues are much easier on the manager and the employee if they are dealt with early in the process. Some suggested steps to address travel card issues the next time you need to deal with a travel card issue are:
1. Talk to the employee: As soon as you discover one of your employees is delinquent on the government-issued travel charge card, ask the employee why he/she was late paying. You also should direct the employee to pay the balance and to advise you when that has been done. If the employee says he/she cannot pay the bill, remind the employee that the agency reimbursed him/her for the travel expenses, so there is little or no justification for failing to pay the bill. The employee is obligated to fully pay the balance of their travel charge card every month. Then document your conversation via email, memo or notes. When the employee pays, confirm the payment.
2. Call Human Resources – Speak with your friendly neighborhood ER/LR Specialist. They will be able to help you work through the circumstances and plan your next steps.
3. Document, Document, Document: There is an old LR/ER saying, “If it isn’t documented – it didn’t happen.” Document your instructions to the employee. Have the employee document the circumstances surrounding the delinquency or misuse. It takes mere minutes to send an email and it will pay off handsomely, should you have to illustrate your actions to DOT or in a hearing.
4. Make a determination: Use the appropriate penalty guide, the “Douglas Factors” and advice from your servicing LR/ER Specialist to ensure that the penalty you are considering is consistent with other similar actions. They can also confirm if your desire to take no action is consistent with other cases with the same set of circumstances. Don’t let your decisions disappear into the ether. Make sure you can demonstrate what you did to investigate and resolve the issue.
5. Remind your employees annually: It is always a good to annually remind employees of their obligations, encourage them to come tell you if they are late on a payment or having problems getting reimbursed. It always serves the employee better if they come to you first, rather than you hearing about a delinquency 3 months later!