Audit finds improper spending by aviation officials

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A federal audit triggered by improper spending by federal aviation officials in Alaska has found millions of dollars in questionable spending elsewhere in the nation.

The General Accounting Office issued a report Wednesday. The report details the results of a broader investigation that Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said was sparked by the Alaska revelations.

The GAO, in its latest report, found more than $6 million in improper expenditures by Federal Aviation Administration employees using federally issued purchase cards.

The amount is relatively small compared to the total amount charged on the cards, the GAO report said. But since the GAO only checked a small portion of the suspicious purchases, investigators said a larger problem likely exists.

Last May, the GAO issued a report on an Alaska division requested by Young after he was contacted by union members, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The report found that the Airways Facilities Division bought extravagant computers, a $370,000 security system that didn't work and expensive personal digital assistants for any employee requesting one. Of 150 credit card transactions reviewed, 118 violated purchasing rules.

The report released Wednesday found similar credit card problems and questionable purchases.

It found employees had improperly spent $66,684 on personal digital assistants and accessories from expensive vendors. Purchases of store gift cards totaled $2,284. Retirement and farewell gifts, including Waterford crystal, totaled $1,203.

''In addition, over half of the asset purchases -- such as computers and other equipment -- that GAO examined had not been recorded in FAA's property system, increasing the risk of loss or theft,'' the GAO said in its report summary.

FAA couldn't locate more than a third of the items the GAO asked to see.

Young, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, chastised the FAA in a news release Wednesday. His committee has jurisdiction over the agency.

''I do not consider gift cards to Wal-Mart and Waterford crystal to fall within the realm of legitimate government spending,'' Young said. ''The committee will watch this issue closely and I strongly encourage FAA to improve their procedures at the Alaska office, and the other offices around the country.''

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