There was a time when a story such as this would have resulted in shock and outrage around the nation. These days, sadly, it barely causes a ripple on the national media pond. Judicial Watch has concluded yet another investigation into government spending, this time at the Department of Defense, and found that government credit cards are being used in all sorts of interesting places. As taxpayers, you’ll be heartened to know that your diligent public servants are making sure that your tax dollars are greasing the wheels of the nation’s economy.
In the latest of many flagrant examples of how tax dollars are wasted, government-issued credit cards were used by Department of Defense (DOD) employees to make more than $4 million in personal charges, including at casinos and strip clubs.
During a one-year period the agency charged 20 million transactions for $3.4 billion on government credit cards, according to a DOD Inspector General report issued this month. About $3.2 million of it was spent at casinos and nearly $1 million on personal expenses, including about $100,000 at strip clubs by 646 card holders. The casino charges were made through 4,437 transactions by 2,636 charge card holders, according to the report which breaks down expenditures by military branch.
The U.S. Air Force is by far the biggest offender, outspending other branches and civilian DOD employees with government-issued credit cards. In the year analyzed by investigators, the Air Force charged more than $400,000 in personal expenses at casinos and nearly $40,000 at strip clubs. The Army came in second by spending almost $350,000 at casinos during the same period and nearly $35,000 at “adult entertainment establishments.”
Some of the stories listed sound as if they should have resulted in people being fired, if not locked up in the brig for a while. There’s the tale of a member of the Naval Special Welfare Group who visited four different strip clubs during a business trip to El Paso and ran up a total bill which was more than six times the total allowable expenses for the period of time spent there. Then there’s the airman who cashed out at $4,686 in the Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club in Vegas and would have taken out more but his card was declined for going over the limit.
And this is all your money. Surely these folks are aware that they’re breaking the rules, right? Well… they would be if there were any such rules in place.
One effective way to prevent this sort of outrageous waste from occurring in the future is to forbid using government travel cards at casinos and strip clubs, the DOD watchdog points out. Profound as this may seem, the DOD has no such rule in place. In fact, the Pentagon’s Defense Travel Management Office responded to the inspector general’s probe by patting itself on the back for a system that evidently screens for problems. It’s so effective, the DOD travel office asserts, that improper spending is a tiny percentage of the total credit card spending.
The typical reason we hear about why such stories are “not such a big deal” is that the amounts in question are such a tiny portion of the budget. But it seems as if everywhere investigators such as Judicial Watch look they find pockets of wasted money in the millions. If you managed to eliminate just these sorts of expenditures across the entire government, how much would the total savings add up to? And it also reminds us of the old saying about a million here, a million there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money. Well, a million dollars of taxpayer cash is real money all by itself. And if you find it in a thousand departments you’re talking about billions.
The government is simply too large for people to keep track of the uncounted transactions and piles of money which move around inside of it. And where there is loose money, people will show up to take advantage of the situation. Prosecuting a few individuals in the Department of Defense will not solve the problem because what’s required is an entirely new culture in Washington. Good luck with that.