Q & A Session – Penalties for Misuse of a Government Credit Card


Ask the Lawyer received the following question (paraphrased for easier reading and clarity) from a reader on a legal matter that might be of interest to the entire audience.


What have been the penalties imposed by government agencies for a first offense of misuse of government credit card (i.e. cash withdrawals while not in TDY status)? Have imposed penalties been consistent across Department of Defense agencies?


Federal agencies, including all Department of Defense components, have similar disciplinary policies for misuse of government charge cards, which frequently fall under umbrella policies regarding unauthorized use of government property. Across the federal government, each case of misuse is viewed in light of its particular circumstances in deciding a penalty. Agencies will consider whether a misuse was intentional, however, intent is not required to substantiate a violation.

In reviewing decisions from the Merit Systems Protection Board, it is very clear that misuse of government charge cards is taken very seriously. In 2000, the Department of the Navy instituted a 3-day suspension for a first offense. In a frequently cited case from 2004, the Department of Veterans Affairs instituted a 30-day suspension for a supervisor with 17 years of federal service and an unrelated prior 14-day suspension who inadvertently used his government charge card for a personal expense and paid off the charge with no financial loss to the agency. And, in 2010, when the U.S. Postal Service wanted to demote an employee for using his government charge card for personal expenses, the Merit Systems Protection Board mitigated the penalty to a 60-day suspension because it was the employee’s first offense in his eight years of federal service, he timely paid the bill and had no outstanding balance, and the employee had never been instructed on the acceptable use of government charge cards.

Within Department of Defense components, contingent upon the particular circumstances of the violation, a first offense for misuse of a government charge card can range from a written reprimand to removal. Because circumstances vary, as demonstrated above, it is difficult to determine from readily available public records whether DoD components impose consistent penalties for first offenses involving misuse of government charge cards.

Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw Bransford & Roth PC.

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