The GAO released a report yesterday on DHS employees’ improper use of government purchase cards. The report has attracted a lot of media attention in the last 24 hours; see these stories in the Washington Times, Reuters, and the AP. The stories and the report offer a number of examples of inappropriate spending at the Department, such as dog booties, iPods, missing laptop PCs, and a beer brewing kit for the Coast Guard academy. DHS has begun to push back on this story, as summarized in this FCW piece, noting that the questionable purchases amounted to only 0.7% of total purchases.
What I find more disturbing than these examples of questionable spending is the total amount of spending through the card program. The GAO report notes that DHS had approx. 9,000 cardholders, who spent a total of $420 million – approx. $46,700 per employee. This doesn’t include travel expenses or ground transportation, which are handled by different programs. This seems like a lot. The Katrina response probably has something to do with this high level of spending, but I think it’s more than that. There needs to be a strong statement of responsibility from the senior leadership of DHS that every dollar spent needs to deliver a real security ROI to American citizens, especially in a time when DHS’s ability to adequately fund many of its core mission requirements in border security, port security, intelligence, and critical infrastructure protection is stretched thin.