Extra Credit

Charge it to Uncle Sam!


Note to embezzlers: An April report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) suggests that if you want to get away with ripping off your employer, you should consider a job in government. An audit of charge cards issued to federal employees found the cards were routinely abused, and the abusers were seldom punished.

Government employees splurged on such items as a $500 Bose radio, designer Louis Vuitton folios, Coach briefcases, $200 Lego robots, cigars, Oakley sunglasses, and a mounted deer head to "educate airmen about [the] local deer population." At the time of the report, none of the employees who bought those items had been disciplined.

The amount spent with such credit cards has grown from about $1 billion in fiscal year 1994 to over $16 billion in fiscal year 2003. But federal agencies have failed to control the number of cards issued, train cardholders how to use them properly, or monitor or audit purchases.

GAO auditors also found that the agencies had made little effort to seek discounts from frequently used vendors. All told, the report concludes, better oversight could save the government hundreds of millions of dollars.