- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Joseph Evans knew better than to use the new government credit card he was recently issued.

“That would be criminal,” said the former auditor for the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress.

Mr. Evans worked for the GAO for more than 30 years before he was “ushered out the door” and forced to retire, he said.

That was nearly two years ago. So Mr. Evans was somewhat surprised to get the MasterCard from Bank of America.

“You would think that the watchdog of the government would be a little more careful about who it gives a credit card to,” Mr. Evans said.

A spokesman for the GAO confirmed there was a glitch in the system and said 40 to 50 credit cards were issued to ex-employees with a credit ceiling of $12,500.

“It’s true, there was a breakdown in our system,” spokesman Jeff Nelligan said.

“We were notified by a former GAO employee, and all cards were canceled Sept. 25. No transactions had been made, and we now have a plan that has strengthened our accountability in these areas,” Mr. Nelligan said.

Mr. Evans said he was “just dumbstruck” that the office charged with ferreting out waste, fraud and abuse in federal agencies did not have controls in place to prevent such an error.

“There is a lot of potential in that for abuse,” Mr. Evans said.

The GAO devotes 90 percent of its investigations to those requested by members of Congress, often with headline-grabbing results.

Last week the GAO reported it had used a fake company to buy excess Pentagon supplies over the Internet that terrorists could use to make biological and chemical weapons. The items were bought for $4,100 but the original acquisition price was $46,960.

A Pentagon audit accused Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Sherry Pierre of using a military credit card to pay for breast-enhancement surgery, a car, motorcycle and other items totaling nearly $130,000.

Last month the GAO released its findings in an audit of credit-card charges by Agriculture Department employees in the Forest Service and found $1.6 million in improper purchases from Oct. 1, 2000, through Sept. 30, 2001.

Among the items purchased on the government’s tab were a billiard table, digital cameras, costumes, caterers and a $2,900 aquarium. Credit cards were also used at a scuba shop and a bingo casino.

Other audits have shown credit cards were used by federal employees at brothels and sporting events.

Mr. Nelligan could not confirm by press time whether the GAO has ever investigated the issuance of credit cards to former employees, but said at the GAO “we’re on top of this thing now.”

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