Like it or not, our federal government spends a lot of money. Our money. Some of the things it spends the money on are items we wouldn't quibble about -- at least, not too much -- things such as veteran benefits and health research.
Most of us, though, would likely object to some expenses recently exposed by our friends at the General Accounting Office (GAO). It seems that at shopping venues like Wal-Mart
- Cosmetic surgery
- A $250 Louis Vuitton designer briefcase
- Expensive wine
- Leather jackets
- Fake diplomas
- LEGOs -- "to teach Navy engineers about robotics"
- A mounted deer head
As you might imagine, the GAO isn't thrilled with its findings. It estimates that we could save hundreds of millions of dollars by simply employing better controls on how government-issued credit cards are used. (Just $100 million would be enough to transform the lives of a million families in the world, according to our Foolanthropy findings.)
At the root of the problem is the fact that since 1989, many government workers have had access to credit cards to make purchasing things easier (and, in theory at least, more cost-effective). But just as credit cards offer too much temptation for many American consumers and just as they lead many down the road to financial ruin, they also hurt us when they're in the hands of similarly vulnerable government workers.
According to the GAO, between 1994 and 2003, the total amount charged on these government cards skyrocketed from $1 billion to $16 billion. A Reuters story notes that "GAO audits of the charge cards found ineffective management, a lack of oversight, and weak internal controls at the departments of Agriculture, Army, Navy, Air Force, Interior, Justice, Transportation and Veterans Affairs."
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) has spoken out and written against this government waste, and she noted that "in the Defense Department alone, there are more than 134,000 purchase cardholders." Collins has co-sponsored the Purchase Card Waste Elimination Act of 2004 with the aim of reining in wasteful spending. Let your representatives in Washington know what you think of this problem and this proposed solution. And let us know on our discussion board.
Meanwhile, if you or anyone you care about is struggling with credit card debt, head to our Credit Center , which features tips on getting out of debt, along with guidance on how to manage your credit effectively. (We even offer a spiffy Motley Fool Visa card .)
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.