Personal Liability? This Federal Employee Ended Up Buying Lunch for Everyone

By on April 23, 2007 in Current Events with 0 Comments

As with any large organization, the federal government has lots of rules. People who work there learn what rules have to be followed and what rules the agency does not take seriously.

For years, a reasonable person could conclude that many agencies did not consider the use of government charge cards seriously. Numerous investigations from GAO and various IG offices routinely find misuse totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars of improper expenditures with the plastic cards. For a variety of reasons including, perhaps, the "out of sight, out of mind" philosophy, there were not many cases of disciplinary action or employees being found personally liable for charges. (See, for example, Where’s the Outrage?)

But the use of government credit cards has gotten a lot of negative publicity. Some agencies have started to take disciplinary action against employees who misuse credit cards–perhaps because they did not like reading in newspapers around the country about an agency employee buying tickets to a rock concert or tattoos using the government travel cards. The agency taking action has also gotten the support of the MSPB in the appeals that followed a disciplinary action. (See, for example, Cash Advances and Government Travel Card Lead to Suspension)

So, perhaps, Uncle Sam’s civilian army of regulators is starting to get serious about how government money is spent by using the power of plastic.

Here is a new wrinkle that is likely to get the attention of those that approve purchase card expenditures. It does not involve the MSPB or any disciplinary action by the agency. But the result is that a federal employee just lost about $400 for approving the improper payment of funds.

A certifying officer for government purchase card payments has considerable power over what government funds can be spent.

That is apparently the message from the GAO. GAO says that it has not previously "considered the appropriate role for a certifying officer who certifies payment to a credit card bank for uses of a purchase card." (See B-307693, Mr. Jeffrey Elmore–Request for Relief of Financial Liability, April 12, 2007)

But GAO has now considered the issue. A federal employee using a government purchase card may find that someone is looking over his shoulder much more closely. That is because, based on this new decision, anyone responsible for certifying payment for a government purchase card will probably take a personal interest. In a new GAO decision involving the the Defense Automatic Addressing Systems Center (DAASC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

As a result of this decision, certifying official Jeffrey Elmore finds himself about $400 poorer. The decision states that: "

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters onĀ federal human resources.