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Finance office attempts to curb government travel card abuse

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Amanda Delisle)

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Amanda Delisle)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- A November 2008 audit performed by Maj. Christopher Abate, 50th Comptroller Squadron commander, revealed some startling misuse of the government travel card, prompting the finance office to continue GTC audits monthly. 

Misuse of the GTC has not been rampant, but since the finance office has a zero misuse goal, efforts will continue in an attempt to improve the roughly five percent misuse rate.
Airmen here typically receive the card in the mail and are instructed to use it for expenses related to TDY activity, but the card does not come with broad instructions on proper use. 
Airmen are expected to follow rules dictated for its use by the Department of Defense Financial Management Regulation 7000.14R, Volume 9, Chapter 3. 

Staff Sgt. Billie Barnard, 50th Space Wing GTC agency program coordinator, says the most frequent misuse of the GTC comes when members use it for personal expenditures. 

"The card is meant to be used for costs associated with TDY, things, like airline tickets, rental cars, lodging, meals and incidental expenses associated with TDY," Sergeant Barnard said. "An example of misuse would be if someone bought all of their incidental items at Wal-Mart and then decided to buy a television too. Or they'll say, 'I like that CD so, I'll just throw it on the government card.' That's where it becomes misuse." 

The misconception for some members comes when they simply think because they pay their balance every month, the invalid expenditures will go unnoticed. 

"That is incorrect," Sergeant Barnard said. "We run a transaction report, which includes all GTC expenditures by everyone in the 50th Space Wing, on a monthly basis." 

The finance office takes this offense seriously. So seriously that offending Airmen can experience escalating levels of discipline for repeated offenses. That discipline is handled through unit commanders. Once suspicious expenditures are noticed they are cross referenced with a wing TDY list. 

"We don't send an e-mail to the member saying, 'we think you may have misused your GTC card,'" Sergeant Barnard said. "We just send the information on to the unit commander and let them deal with finding out if the transaction in question was valid or invalid." 

The unit commander can then investigate and report back as to whether the transaction was valid, or that it was invalid and being handled appropriately. 

The DoD FMR does provide unit commanders with options for disciplining offending Airmen, up to and including an Article 92, "Failure to obey order or regulation," but those commanders are free to exercise judgment in each case.
Airmen unfamiliar with proper GTC use can consult the DoD FMR volume 9, chapter 3, or they can also contact the finance office at 567-2010. 

Some misconceptions also arise involving dates of use, but there are no set specific dates for GTC use prior to TDY. 

"We recommend use of the card one day prior to going on TDY," Sergeant Barnard said. "You can use it one day prior for cash advances for example, but you don't use it after you return home because you are no longer on TDY." 

Still, he believes most GTC misuse issues aren't arising out of ignorance. 

"Out of the $200,000 that's spent monthly on average through the 50th Space Wing, there might be five percent of misuse, so a lot of people know what they should and should not be spending on the card," Sergeant Barnard said. "It's just those people who choose to use it without questioning before using it, or they neglect what they've been told and decide to use it anyway." 

There are some cases involving legitimate or unintentional misuse as well, where card members confuse the GTC with other personal credit cards and use the GTC by accident. 

The APC says those cases are understandable, but the situations where card members are knowingly using the card at a restaurant or a retail store downtown are clear violations. 

On other fronts, the finance office also handles issues involving the conversion of the GTC from Bank of America to Citibank, an action that occurred in November 2008. Most card members were issued new cards from Citibank and instructed to use those after Nov. 29. 

"One of the big issues is Citibank has not completely perfected it's Web site," Sergeant Barnard said. "Probably 96 percent of the people who had a Bank of America GTC received new cards from Citibank, but of the 4 percent who did not receive a new card, it's been tough to get a new card." 

The finance office also handles delinquent-payment cases involving the GTC. 

Card members are expected to pay their balance in full every month, but in some cases, those members are on extended TDY assignments. 

"We do have cases where people become delinquent and we understand we can not control the length of TDYs," Sergeant Barnard said. "So our goal for delinquent payments is 2 percent, based on the total charges for the month divided by the total amount that is delinquent -- $4,000 for delinquencies in a month when you're talking $200,000 in transactions ... that's tough."