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Spending bill targets troops using government charge cards in strip clubs, casinos

PHOTO BY CHRIS LIVERANI/UNSPLASH

By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: March 22, 2018

WASHINGTON — The omnibus spending bill pending approval in Congress includes language that would explicitly ban U.S. troops and civilians working for the Defense Department from using government funding on expenses incurred in casinos or strip clubs.

The language states that no federal money "may be used for Government Travel Charge Card expenses by military or civilian personnel of the Department of Defense for gaming, or for entertainment that includes topless or nude entertainers or participants."

It follows the release of a Defense Department inspector general report in 2015 that said that in a 12-month period ending June 30, 2014, $952,258 was improperly spent using government charge cards in casinos and $96,576 was spent in "adult entertainment establishments." The numbers would have been even higher, but some transactions were declined by credit card companies, the watchdog found.

Using government charge cards in such establishments already is not allowed under Defense Department regulations. A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Patrick Evans, said Thursday that the department was reviewing the matter.

The language was included in the spending bill after the inspector general issued a follow-up report in August 2016 at the request of the Senate Armed Services Committee that found more problems in the Pentagon's travel-card program. The watchdog found then that commanders and officials overseeing travel cards did not take appropriate action when notified by the Defense Department inspector general of findings in the first audit, and the inspector general detailed specific examples of misuse. The travel card program, the inspector general said, "remained vulnerable to continued misuse."

In one case, the inspector general flagged five potential travel-card transactions involving casinos by a civilian employee at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. During an investigation, the cardholder "stated that he thought personal use was acceptable as long as the bill was paid," the report said.

The agency issued the employee a letter of reprimand in May 2014, but the inspector general found afterward that the same person continued to violate the rules. Those violations included withdrawing between $104.50 and $504.50 on three occasions near casinos in Charles Town, West Virginia, and twice at a casino in Black Hawk, Colorado.

The cardholder was allowed continued access to classified information despite the ongoing misuse of his travel card and after being reprimanded, the watchdog found. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency was not aware of the continued misuse until notified by the inspector general, a fact that the watchdog later attributed in part to the Defense Department monitor being required to oversee thousands of transactions each month on more than 1,300 accounts.

The employee ultimately lost access to classified information in November 2015 and was placed on administrative leave; his current employment status was not immediately clear on Thursday.

A senior defense official, Anthony Kurta, responded to the inspector general's second report in August 2016, stating in a memo that while the Defense Department concurred with recommendations to improve oversight, it was important to note that most of the problems flagged could be attributed to a single employee. The $8,500 in spending flagged in the second audit "amounts to less than .001 percent of the total DoD travel spend, which averages approximately $8 million per year," he wrote.
 

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