Magazine article Insight on the News

GAO Report Finds Forest Service Guilty of Burning Money

Magazine article Insight on the News

GAO Report Finds Forest Service Guilty of Burning Money

Article excerpt

Byline: Jennifer G. Hickey, INSIGHT

GAO Report Finds Forest Service Guilty Of Burning Money

While Smokey Bear was keeping his eye on fighting forest fires, it would appear nobody at the U.S. Forest Service was paying attention to employee use of government-issued credit cards. In what has become a governmentwide problem, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reports that internal-control weaknesses have left the Forest Service's purchase-card program susceptible to abuse and fraud.

In an August report, the GAO said the weaknesses "likely contributed to approximately $2.7 million in improper, wasteful and questionable purchases" identified in the independent agency's audit. The occurrence of unauthorized purchases, transactions on accounts of former employees and purchases in excess of card limits should have been no surprise considering that the Forest Service's financial management has been identified since 1999 as a "high-risk area" by the GAO.

The Forest Service inspector general (IG) identified some of the weaknesses in an August 2001 report and sought to address lapses in controls and oversight in December 2002 and February 2003. But the GAO concluded "the revised regulations did not fully address the critical issues reported by the IG and confirmed by us as continuing weaknesses during our audit, such as supervisory review, effective monitoring of purchase-card transactions and property accountability."

The Forest Service commented on a draft copy of the GAO report but not the final report. In the draft response, the Forest Service outlined actions it already has taken and others that it plans to take. However, the GAO concluded the actions outlined likely will be insufficient.

Waving a Welcome Goodbye to Welfare?

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson reported Sept. 3 that both the number of individuals and the number of families being served under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program declined between March 2002 and March 2003. The official figures indicate that the number of recipients in March 2003 had declined 4.3 percent since March 2002 and 59.5 percent since August 1996, the inception of the TANF law. Additionally, the number of families receiving TANF declined about 2 percent during the same period, to 2,039,917, in March 2003, according to the HHS. Since August 1996, the number of families receiving TANF has fallen by 53.7 percent.

"We cannot be satisfied until every family has the help it needs to become self-sufficient and move from welfare dependence to work. …

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