This article originally appeared on watchdog.org.
WASHINGTON, D.C. â€“ Federal employees are running amok with government credit cards, making thousands of personal purchases at the publicâ€™s expense.
The ongoing spending spreeÂ â€” ranging from fitness centers and hair salons to movie theaters and Starbucks â€” came to light Tuesday during a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill.
Florida Republican Rep.Â John Mica, chairman of the Government Operations subcommittee, told Watchdog.org the level of unchecked spending via Government Purchase Cards was â€śstartling.â€ť
Inspectors at the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor acknowledged widespread abuse and lack of controls.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2007, DHS audits found that the sprawling agency was exposed â€śto fraud and abuse in purchase card use.â€ť
The run-up in questionable or illegal card use continues, investigators said.
In fiscal 2013, 9,700 DHS cardholders made $439 million in purchases, reportedÂ Anne Richards, assistant inspector general for audits at the agency. She said any purchase up to $3,000 is classified as a â€śmicropurchaseâ€ť subject to less scrutiny.
Richards concluded that DHS card use contains â€śinherent risks (that) cannot be eliminated.â€ť
At the EPA, 94 percent of reviewed card transactions violated agency policies.
â€śIn three instances, cardholders purchased gym memberships â€¦ totaling $2,867. Two of those purchases were for family memberships, and not just the EPA employee,â€ť saidJanet Kasper, director of contracts at EPAâ€™s Office of Inspector General.
At the Department of Laborâ€™s Job Corps program, 6,198 of 17,796 cards â€śwere misused to purchase items such as consumer electronics, clothing and wireless telephone service,â€ť saidÂ Elliot Lewis, assistant inspector general for the agencyâ€™s audit office.
Other improper card use, including buying movie tickets and other items online, were found at 98 of the 104 Job Corps centers reviewed.
All the charged expenses â€“ including $12,000 in government card purchases at a single California StarbucksÂ â€” happened after Congress passed 2012 legislation aimed at reining in card use.
Except for three firings and two resignations at a Jobs Corps center in Miami, the auditors did not report any punishment resulting from the illegal spending. No reimbursements were indicated.
Mica told Watchdog his committee would pursue ways to â€śfurther tighten the law.â€ť
â€śIt an unfortunate incidence of abuse,â€ť Mica said, noting that the current law does not yet cover the Department of Defense.
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