- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2006

Years ago, a New York-based furrier had a good thing going selling “woodland kitty” coats that wore well but cost a lot less than mink.

All was well until somebody — possibly a disgruntled employee — blew the whistle and told the tabloids that a woodland kitty was really a skunk.

Fast forward to today. Uncle Sam has issued literally millions of travel cards to employees, some of whom never travel on official business and some of whom make not paying their credit card bills a habit. In 2005, the Department of Defense alone had 1.4 million travel cards and paid out $3.4 billion in charges.

Although travel cards are among the most numerous, many specialists say the real problem is with “purchase cards.” People in the business world and regular consumers call them “credit cards.” “Purchase,” like “woodland kitty,” sounds better, but many people think it’s a pretty name for a wallet-sized skunk.

Last year, Defense had 207,000 purchase cards in the hands of personnel, who spent $6.1 million on a variety of things, some more necessary than others.

Six years ago, an employee of an independent agency bought a car, for herself, using a federal purchase card. Word spread quickly in the federal procurement community, and it caused quite a stir when it was first reported, denied and then confirmed.

The latest revelations about Department of Homeland Security purchases, related to the Gulf Coast hurricanes last year, are well-known to most people. The highly suspect items purchased, and uncovered by the DHS inspector general and the Government Accountability Office, include an $8,000 plasma TV, a beer-brewing kit, laptop computers and thousands of doggie booties.

The latter could be justified, because rescue dogs work in some very hostile, paw-unfriendly environments. But, according to official reports, the booties were never issued.

The cards normally had a limit of about $2,500, but that was raised to $250,000 after the emergencies. That’s a lot of extra zeroes, and a lot of temptation.

Various members of Congress have expressed concern about the problem, saying more controls are needed.

All the controls, and the spending limits and the number of cards forced upon employees, need to be re-examined. The majority of feds, who do a good job, are made to look like idiots, at best, and crooks, at worst, until better oversight is established.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected]federalnewsradio.com.

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