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Binge bucks: It's Georgia taxpayers' plastic, to be used by state employees to purchase goods for government. So why do many use it to buy porn, gifts, tans and trips?
A1 story, Dec. 23, 2007
By ANDREA JONES and MEGAN CLARKE
The story: A sample state audit of the use of purchasing cards, used by thousands of state employees to buy work-related items, showed poor oversight and a lack of control.
The state-issued Bank of America credit cards are used by 129 state agencies and dozens more local governments. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution analyzed more than 4 million transactions on state purchasing or "p-cards" and found a program that morphed from a simple way for workers to buy supplies into a $370 million spending spree.
How we got it: Under the Georgia Open Records Act, the AJC examined bank transactions on each state-issued purchasing card for the past three years. At the state's direction, Bank of America complied with the request because it is the custodian of the public records. The newspaper's analysis of p-card usage uncovered patterns of policy violations and hundreds of charges that raised questions. Employees used the cards to buy everything from tattoos to expensive trips. Employees spent $13 million in travel expenses, including $6 million for plane tickets, $240,000 in booking fees and $6.1 million in hotel and resort charges. They spent another $6 million at Amazon.com and $9.3 million at restaurants and caterers, to name a few.
The results: The statewide audit and newspaper articles prompted the governor to order all state agencies to review p-card use. Officials at the Department of Administrative Services, which oversees the program, said 1,200 cards have since been terminated, 1,000 more p-card holders had their transaction and/or credit limits reduced, and thousands of state staffers have now been trained. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would further limit card usage.