D.C. Area Government Workers Steal $ 17 Million Per Yearby Doug Mataconis
This morning’s Washington Post is reporting that government workers in the Washington, D.C. area have defrauded the American taxpayer out of $ 17 million dollars per year:
It’s a perk of federal employment: a free monthly subsidy that pays for commutes on public transportation. But scores of workers have been taking the government for a ride, selling their benefits on the Internet and pocketing millions in cash each year.
The program, which covers 300,000 federal employees nationwide, has been abused by workers across a variety of agencies, the Government Accountability Office will report to Congress today. Workers in the Washington region alone have defrauded the government of at least $17 million a year, with the actual figure probably several million dollars higher, according to the GAO.
Employees have taken the benefit vouchers, known locally as Metrocheks, and turned them into a kind of black-market currency, selling them — often at a discount off the face value — to buyers who can use them to ride Metro, regional buses or commuter railroads.
Workers have been accepting the transit subsidies but driving to work, or claiming a subsidy far greater than their commuting costs and selling the excess, GAO investigators found. For example, one employee at the Department of Transportation claimed the maximum benefit of $105 per month, but his commute cost $54.
Meanwhile, agencies have been handing out transit subsidies to employees who also receive free parking spaces, to employees who no longer work for the government and, in some cases, to people who apparently were never employed by the agencies.
To anyone who understands rent-seeking and public choice economics, none of this should be a surprise. The government hands out cash subsidies rather than actually confirming that workers are incurring the transportation expenses they claim — and apparently without even demanding receipts — and the workers, responding accordingly, inflate those expenses and take as much money as they can get.
Hearings will be held and reforms will be proposed, but the incentive to lie, cheat, and steal away the taxpayer’s money will remain.