The Washington Post story that is making the rounds today has all the usual elements of sensationalism about out-of-control fraud among Federal bureaucrats:
The study, released by Senate lawmakers yesterday, found that nearly half the "purchase card" transactions it examined were improper, either because they were not authorized correctly or because they did not meet requirements for the cards' use. The overall rate of problems "is unacceptably high," the audit found.
The GAO also found that agencies could not account for nearly $2 million worth of items identified in the audit -- including laptop computers, digital cameras and, at the Army, more than a dozen computer servers worth $100,000 each.
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who requested the study along with Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), said that money "intended to pay for critical infrastructure, education and homeland security is instead being spent on iPods, lingerie and socializing."
"Too many government employees have viewed purchase cards as their personal line of credit," Coleman said. "It's time to cut up their cards and start over."
The audit is the culmination of a series of GAO reports over the past decade that have uncovered improper use of government-issued purchase cards at agencies, including the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Government employees spent nearly $20 billion last year using "SmartPay" cards and related convenience checks, for items ranging from pencils to computers to utility trucks.
Purchase cards, used by about 300,000 government employees in 2007, are essentially the federal government's equivalent of corporate credit cards. Issued by five major banks, they are primarily for transactions under $2,500 but can be used for larger contract payments. All transactions are supposed to comport with federal purchasing guidelines, including proper authorization and documentation.
The latest study used scientific sampling to gauge problems with the cards across numerous federal agencies from July 2005 to September 2006. The report singles out incidents for special criticism as "abusive," "improper" or "fraudulent."
In the fraudulent category, a longtime employee of the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon, Debra K. Durfey, wrote convenience checks worth more than $640,000 from 2000 to 2006 to a live-in boyfriend, who used the money for gambling, car expenses and mortgage payments, according to the GAO and the Justice Department.
The story, which does not present an exhaustive list of agencies in which abuses occurred, nonetheless names:
The Defense Department
The Department of the Army
The Department of Justice
The Department of the Interior
The Department of Homeland Security
The US Forest Service
The US Postal Service
What's going to happen with this story is that it is going to be converted into a story about GOP waste and fraud in government, with Senators Clinton and Obama (along with a host of Democratic partisans) saying this is all the result of Bush, Cheney, and the spirit of Robber Baron looting turned loose on the public.
If you doubt, here's how a local blog treated earlier reports of fraud and waste at the Pentagon:
Yet more waste and possible fraud and abuse from our GOP Pentagon....
Think of it. Our GOP run Pentagon has given away $295 billion EXTRA to weapons manufacturers because these corporations didn't make the weapons systems at their bid price. Then to add insult to injury: even though the GOP Pentagon has given 295 billion extra tax dollars in cost overruns to them, the weapons manufacturers still deliver the weapon systems two years late on average.
Such commentators tend to completely ignore similar reports of waste and fraud attributed to the previous administration (funny, how such reports are never attributed to your Democrat Pentagon).
What this all obscures, as both wings of the Demopublican Party kick around government fraud and waste as a political football, is the fact that big government--regardless of which party is in charge--is rarely if ever a good custodian of the public's money.
Lord Acton opined in a famous (but almost always misquoted) aphorism in 1887: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
This would be my rewrite: "Government power tends to corrupt, and big government corrupts absolutely. Big governments are almost always bad governments."