Houston we have a "Credit" Problem, NASA Spending Spree
What Space Cases! NASA Employees think its O.K. to use your money to buy toys.
NASA employees have used government credit cards to ring up iPods, video games and even clothes from the agency's own gift shop, while at other times using the cards in ways that sidestep competitive bidding rules, federal documents and a Chronicle review of agency records show.
The review comes at a time when Congress is considering tightening purchase card regulations across government, after a federal report last month that found widespread abuse in government credit card programs, including charges that did not follow policies to prevent waste and fraud.
Internal investigations have for years uncovered similar problems within NASA, which has long been criticized for poor financial management, even as the agency has pleaded with Congress for billions of dollars to fuel new manned missions into space.
"We should be outraged. Everybody should be," said U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, whose district includes Johnson Space Center. "Clearly we have not done enough."
The Houston Chronicle analyzed 451,000 charges, totaling more than $265 million, made on NASA purchase cards between January 2004 and July 2007. The newspaper also reviewed audits, internal reports and other documents related to card use. Among the findings:
•NASA employees have made numerous charges for seemingly personal items, including custom-engraved iPods and a Christmas tree. About $270 worth of T-shirts and hats purchased from a NASA gift shop were justified by one cardholder as "safety attire," and one former civil servant pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges last year after spending more than $157,000 on things including jewelry, electronics and an air conditioner for her home.
•When doing NASA business, most cardholders are allowed to spend only $3,000 per transaction, but many exceeded that limit by splitting more expensive purchases into smaller chunks. Some purchases were so large that they may have violated federal competitive bidding rules.
•NASA auditors have pointed out purchase card abuses in no fewer than five internal reports since 1997.
Space agency procurement officials said they are aware the purchase card program, with its massive volume of transactions, has at times fallen victim to waste and fraud.