Assembly Will Open Probe into Credit-Card Fudging; the Program Is Said to Lack Internal Controls Necessary to Stop Fraud

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Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA - Lawmakers will launch an investigation into state employees' use of taxpayer-funded credit cards, the House's chief budget writer announced Wednesday, as the University System of Georgia prepares to begin an extensive audit in hopes of weeding out any fraud by its employees.

The inquiries marked the latest fallout from a scathing report issued last week by auditors. It slammed agencies for failing to police use of the state-issued cards and stated flatly that "fraudulent and improper purchases have occurred."

"The state's Purchasing Card Program lacks the internal controls necessary to safeguard the Program from fraudulent and improper purchases," auditors said in the report.

House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin, R-Evans, said Wednesday he has asked Rep. John Heard, R-Lawrenceville, to lead a probe into agencies' practices and what the state can do about fraud if it occurs.

"We're not just going to sit by and say it's OK to take taxpayer money and not be held accountable," Harbin said.

State employees held a total of nearly 20,000 credit cards last year, a number that Harbin said might be too high. But he said lawmakers would be willing to listen to agencies' explanations.

"They may have good reasons," he said. "They may be able to defend it."

Meanwhile, the state's university system is preparing to launch its own audit of around 700,000 purchases its employees made using the state credit cards over the last 12 months. …