- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Allowing everybody in the office to have a sky's-the-limit company credit card probably isn't such a good idea.
Forcing everybody in the outfit — from the elevator operator, whose official travel is, uh, vertically restricted, to the chief operating officer — to carry a company credit card has all the makings of a really bad idea.
As you may have read already, feds have charged nearly $19 billion so far this year, according to the Associated Press, and the four banks that issue the credit cards have lost almost $20 million because workers won't pay for personal items they used their agency's credit to purchase.
Too many credit cards, too many credit card holders and not enough oversight was a major topic at last week's Federal Dispute Resolution conference in New Orleans.
The FDR sessions tackled human-relations problems in government and looked for ways to resolve them before they become expensive (sometimes fatal) federal cases.
Some of the 1,000-plus delegates resented that they had to use the credit cards, had to, to charge their travel, food and lodging when cash or travelers checks would have done the job. They said too many federal workers have them.
Stories — from people who ought to know — were plentiful.
Did you hear the one about the Office of Personnel Management employee who used the card for years for personal items? She didn't get caught because she always paid her bills on time, and no warning lights went off. Until she got carried away and purchased, are you ready, a $15,000 automobile. That raised two questions with the staff. One, why did she do it, and two, where did she get a decent new car for $15,000?
Or the senior executive who overextended himself, as it were, on purchases using his official government credit card.
According to agency experts, his defense was that they couldn't prove intent to misuse the card because he confused it with his own personal cards. What?
Or the Department of Education employees who used their government credit cards to order naughty toys over the Internet.
At least 15 federal agencies reportedly have more credit cards than they do employees. Just how that works isn't clear.
Unfortunately, two banks that participate in the program may pull out as soon as they can, which would be 2003 or 2004.
If banks leave the credit card program (designed to cut red tape, paperwork, etc.) the government (which is you, dear loyal taxpayer) will lose the rebates (about 0.006 percent of each transaction) it now gets each time a fed flies the friendly skies, stays in a hotel or motel or eats or purchases something on and for official business.
One reason the banks are balking is that Uncle Sam won't garnish the wages of employees for bad debts and most agencies (thanks to manpower shortages and the sheer volume of the charges) don't, can't or won't enforce their usage.
The Interior Department is experimenting with a voluntary garnishment program. But it's voluntary. If you don't want to pay your government credit card debt, you can, in many cases, get out of doing so.
A word about the cards themselves. They do have limits. But in many instances the credit limit is $150,000.
For many of us, when it comes to wise use of credit, the national anthem is "What Kind of Fool Am I?" Imagine giving 1.3 million executive branch workers almost 3.1 million credit cards.
Forget about going out for a pizza. Go out and buy a pizza parlor.
Congress is investigating the credit card problem. Heads, probably the wrong ones, will roll. After all, the idiots who oversaw the program are members of Congress.
Meanwhile, the small minority of feds who abuse the program, and who have racked up the debt and created the horror stories that may kill it, continue to work and draw their paychecks.
Did I mention, it's called the Smart Card program.
Whatever.


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