GAO sees weak discipline of DOD purchase offenders

GAO Report: Purchase Cards: Steps Taken to Improve DOD Program Management, but Actions Needed to Address Misuse

Defense Department officials are increasing their ability to monitor and prevent misuse of the department's purchase cards, but they often do not take strong enough disciplinary action when abusers of the cards are discovered, according to a General Accounting Office report released this week.

Defense officials have largely completed altering department policies to comply with federal regulations, but considerable work remains to implement managerial and oversight mechanism, according to the GAO report. DOD officials issued new guidelines for how they handle abuse of purchase cards, but the actual discipline of offenders does not appear strong enough to GAO observers.

"According to the disciplinary guidelines, there is no single response for all cases," the report says. "Instead, a progression of increasingly severe disciplinary measures is often appropriate in the case of minor instances of misuse, but more serious cases may warrant the most severe sanctions in the first instance."

In some of the more egregious cases, the military took strong action, including firing employees or jailing them for up to five years. In other instances, however, "the military services often did not discipline the 120 individuals that we identified as having made improper, abusive or questionable transactions," the report says. "Further, the discipline, if it was imposed at all, was usually retraining."

The report goes on to conclude that "fraudulent" or "potentially fraudulent" purchases are often met with stricter disciplinary action than "improper, abusive or questionable purchases."

GAO officials recommended that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld direct his service secretaries to:

* Monitor the results of purchase card reviews conducted by the military services and agencies.

* Track whether major commands and units are consistently applying DOD's disciplinary guidelines to those who made or authorized improper or abusive acquisitions.

* Notify appropriate officials at major commands or units if the department's disciplinary guidelines are not being consistently applied.

Defense officials did not comment on the recommendations, but a memo from LeAntha Sumpter, director of the purchase card joint program management office, said the department was pleased that its efforts to implement GAO's prior recommendations are being recognized.

Over the past several years, GAO officials have made more than 100 recommendations regarding better oversight of the use of DOD's purchase cards, which have been used by federal employees to buy, among other things, prostitutes, breast implants and sports tickets.

To combat abuse, the military reduced the number of cards issued to about 145,000 in March of this year from 239,000 two years earlier, the GAO report says. The department also started using database monitoring software to track purchases and catch abuses soon after they occur.

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