Dishonesty at any level hurts us all

Monday, April 14, 2008

Anyone who's dealt with a bureacracy of any size knows the frustration of doing business.

There are forms to fill out, hoops to jump through, red tape to traverse -- and heaven forbid if one gets a line of information out of order.

Meanwhile, agencies can't take advantage of good deals on goods and services when a quick decision has to be made, nor the convenience you and I enjoy when making private purchases by credit card or check.

Actually, they can, thanks to government "purchase cards" and "convenience checks" -- the latter of which cannot usually be written for more than $3,000.

A great idea, assuming everyone given authority to use the cards or checks is honest.

You guessed it -- not everyone is.

According to a Government Accounting Office statistical sample, of the transactions conducted on purchase card transactions from July 1, 2005 through June 30, 2006, nearly 41 percent failed to include property documentation on the purchase or delivery.

What sort of purchases did the GAO discover?

* A postmaster used his government card to subscribe to two Internet dating services over 15 consecutive months -- the official paid restitution over more than $1,100 but faced no disciplinary action.

* A USDA official paid more than $642,000 to a live-in boyfriend who shared the same bank account as the cardholder. It was detected only after a whistleblower reported the transactions, and the cardholder was ordered to pay full restitution and was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

* Another USDA official used year-end funds to acquire a minivan and SUV for $80,000; these were sent to the Foreign Agricultural Service offices which requested them, but they could have been a fraudulent purchase had not the GAO found them.

Of course, the GAO study is probably just the tip of the iceberg -- and only examined a tiny portion of the government's transaction.

And, it included only internal transactions -- not dealings private citizens and corporations might have with the government.

Does that idea ring a bell? It should, on the eve of the April 15 tax deadline.

According to an NPR story Sunday, taxpayers defraud the government of some $1 trillion in taxes due each year.

Imagine how your tax bill might be reduced if the government was bringing in $1 trillion -- that's a thousand, thousand, million dollars -- more than it is today.

It's just one example of how dishonesty at any level hurts us all.

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