Congress wants to take a closer look at the more than $1 million in expenses at casinos and strip clubs that troops and Defense Department civilians put on their government travel cards last year.
The DoD Inspector General announced Wednesday it will launch a follow-up investigation into its probe last year that revealed card holders ran up more than 5,000 transactions at casinos and strip clubs.
The IG's report on that probe, released in May, identified thousands of charges — like the unnamed Navy SEAL visiting El Paso, Texas, on official duty who who splurged on his official government credit card at an adult entertainment establishment to the tune of more than $1,000 over his 17-day stay.
However, that earlier report did not delve into details on who ultimately paid those bills. In some cases, charges made to government credit cards are approved as official expenses and covered by DoD, but if cardholders do not submit certain expenses for reimbursement through their command or agency, they are ultimately responsible for paying the balances for any outstanding charges with out-of-pocket cash.
That's the sharper point of the new probe, to "determine whether DoD cardholders who used government travel cards at casinos and adult entertainment establishments for personal use sought or received reimbursement for the charges," Assistant Inspector General Michael Roark told Pentagon officials in a memo.
"In addition, we will determine whether disciplinary actions have been taken in cases of personal use and if the misuse was reported to the appropriate security office," Roark wrote.
The new investigation was requested by the Senate Armed Services Committee and will target the Defense Travel Management Office, in Alexandria, Virginia, according to the memo.
The IG report in May found that in many cases, the defense agencies overseeing those credit cards did not detect the improper transactions for several potential reasons:
- The compliance programs did not have a mechanism for identifying and flagging charges at casinos and adult entertainment establishments
- DoD had no policy requiring its components to identify "high-risk merchants" that might suggest wrongful personal use of government credit cards at casinos or adult entertainment establishments
- In the case of government credit cards, banks were not required to notify military agencies or management officials of potential fraudulent activity or suspension of accounts, because individual cardholders resolve those matters. So it was unclear whether the transactions at casinos or adult entertainment establishments involved misuse by government employees or a credit card scam.
The new audit likely will last several months and the IG will publish a final report next year.
Overall, DoD cardholders made 20 million transactions totaling $3.4 billion during the 12-month period examined by the IG, according to the May report.
Cardholders racked up more than $3.2 million in charges at casinos, but the majority of those were for official use, according to the report.
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.