Don’t Worry, Be Happy

New Legislation Won’t Help
One Women’s Opinion
By – Sheri de Grom

For months I’ve been telling myself, “Stop taking yourself so seriously. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t keep up with what you believe is faulty legislation or improper actions by governmental agencies.”

But can I really let go and just have fun for a change? Must I write about the rising number of deaths on cell phone towers and my fury that no one is doing anything about it?

And what about the continued downsizing of our military in the wake of chemical warfare?

The Pentagon has announced the U.S. will send two batteries Of Patriot missiles and four-hundred troops to Turkey as part of a NATO force meant to protect Turkey territory from potential Syrian missile attacks. An Air Force member asked Secretary of Defense Panetta what the U.S. would do if Syria used chemical or biological weapons against the rebels. Panetta said he could not be specific in a public setting, but added, “we have drawn up plans” that give President Obama a set of options in the event that U.S. intelligence shows that Syria intends to use such weapons.

I know I can’t drop the issue of a retired military member or a civil-service federal employee having to pay up to one-half of their retirement to an ex-spouse, even if that spouse is completely self-sufficient. (This is a separate issue from the requirements of paying child-support.) It’s just plain wrong!

I’ll always write about mental health; it’s my platform. And yes, as a graduate professor long ago accused, I am guilty of wearing my heart on my sleeve. I always wished Don Polden, the best professor ever, had lived to see me in action. He was my mentor for years and I still think of him when making important decisions.

I plan to challenge myself in the months to come and write about slices of life along with the more serious subjects I pursue in my Monday blogs. Items on the agenda include:

  • The Day We Waxed The Walls
  • Someone’s Been Sitting In My Seat
  • The Old Grey Ghost
  • Morti and Me . . . A Continuing Series
  • On the bridge with Uncle Kenneth
  • Yes, dear, we still live in Arkansas
  • Culture shock killed Herman the German

Meanwhile, I actually had today’s post written but it’s been pre-empted by other Monday topics.

I’m furious with both the Senate and House of Representatives for not passing a budget. All talk of  bipartisanship angers me further. Obviously, our members of congress haven’t a clue when it comes to surviving in today’s economy.

Instead of addressing the real issues facing our country, they elected to spend time on a frivolous piece of legislation having to do with the government charge card program. Take it from me—it’s not going to change a thing.

The Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 won’t help. I’m unhappy with the previous do-nothing House and Senate. Identical legislation was in place when this matter was brought before congress. I’m positive this legislation will be rolled out as an accomplishment, but what about our nation’s decade-plus war and the lack of a balanced budget?

The bill was sponsored by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

You might wonder why I believe the new legislation is worthless. My answer is easy. Honest people behave responsibly with government-issued credit cards.

I’m a retired civil service Department of Defense employee and after I climbed the ranks and reached a certain level, I was issued my own government American Express card for travel and I used a second government charge card for operational expenses for my department.

Before I obtained rank and director status, each time I traveled on behalf of the government I either had to pay for my flight and all travel expenses, hotel, food, etc. out of my own money and then once I returned to my office the mountain of paperwork began. I had to fill out supporting documents, get appropriate signatures and turn my travel expenses into the finance office for reimbursement. If lucky, I’d receive payment for my travel expenses within three to five weeks.

The other alternative was to go to the finance office before I traveled and obtain what was called a travel allowance. However, the finance officer only allowed a percentage of the expected cost of the trip. Obtaining a portion of the money up front was often necessary, but it also meant I had to do two sets of copious amounts of paperwork instead of one.

Having a government charge card for department cost—which primarily consisted of office supplies—was heaven sent. My department was large but I still saved money for the government because I could buy in bulk, take advantage of certain sales at government-approved sites and, if an inferior product was received, it could always be returned.

The new law requires federal agencies to put new controls on government charge cards and enforce more stringent penalties for violations by federal employees.

However, in October it was determined that no one at the Veteran’s Affairs Administration (VA) would be reprimanded for their lavish expenditures of $762,000 in unauthorized, unnecessary, and/or wasteful expenses. Additionally, it appears a $6.1 million in total costs may have been unlawfully spent using Government issued American Express cards, although the full price tag by Veteran’s Affairs could be even higher.

Not only were governmental expenditures out of line, but eleven VA employees in charge of managing conferences also improperly accepted gifts from contractors seeking to do business or already doing business with the VA. These ‘gifts’ ranged from lodging to meals to helicopter rides to massages.

We have veterans seeking care who are placed on long waiting lists and other veterans who cannot even make it onto these waiting lists. Disability claims are slow in being adjudicated. The amount of misappropriated monies spent could have provided care for our veterans.

Congress states public trust has been violated by abusive use of government charge cards. I couldn’t agree more, but when no one at the VA is held accountable, what message does this send to anyone else holding a government credit card?

In reviewing the required safeguards established by the Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, I noted that many of the stated standards were already in place when I retired from government in 1999. Additionally, other internal controls required are common sense. In my opinion, Congress hasn’t exhibited common sense during their last several sessions. I implore them not to mandate rules they themselves don’t follow.

I cannot imagine not checking my own credit card statement each month to insure every line item is accurate. The same was always true of government credit cards issued to me for operational purposes.

I recognize many high ranking civil service government officials do not come up through the ranks and often times they’ve seemed to present a privileged attitude. This is especially true of the Senior Executive Service (SES) Presidential appointees. This attitude is wrong. A career working for the government is one of service to and for our country. The privilege is ours to serve.

Government charge cards create an efficiency without a mound of paperwork. The high-ranking employees who are able to rack up tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenditures on their government charge card should not place a good program in jeopardy.

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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16 Responses to Don’t Worry, Be Happy

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the kind comment about your mentor (and my father) Don Polden. I assume that you were one of his students at GGU. He was very proud of the work he did with his students and enjoyed teaching. He is greatly missed by his family and others who knew him. Best wishes, Don Polden (Dean Emeritus/Professor of Law, Santa Clara University)

    • Dear Proffesor Polden: I was thrilled when I saw your message this morning. I immediately called a number of my gradunating class members (we’re now scattered all over the world) and evey individual was saddened equally by your father’s passing yet we always moved on to the good times and all we learned. Your father had that wonderful way of going beyond the extra mile or even a thousand miles to bring out the best in each of us. And yes, we all graduated from GGU, Monterey Campus. I believe your dad would be thrilled – we each ended up in careers that I’m positive he would have been proud to have been a part of when he shaped our lives all those years ago.

      There’s ten of us that have been together since the 80’s when we all met in your dad’s classes and we bonded immediately under your dad’s guidance. If it is okay with you, we would like to present a blog honoring your father and how important it is to have a mentor to direct and advise and one who was our friend at the same time. Blessings to you and yours. Sheri P.S. I’ve been the one elected to publish the blog as I have the most diverse readership and I also mentor university students. I often say to myself, “What would Don have Don ?” Most of all, thank you for bringing me this news of your father and my mentor. You’ll never know how much that means to me.

  2. Denise Hisey says:

    Here in Washington State we have debit cards for the Welfare programs. These cards were handed out like cash, untraceable. Recipients were selling them for undervalue and returning to the welfare offices asking for replacements for their ‘stolen’ cards. This was going on for years before the news media make a stink about it. These same cards are also able to be used at the casinos for gambling or cash widrawals. Our lawmakers refused to believe what a problem it was until said news media pushed them to start looking at the staggering numbers.
    Fraud is rampant!

  3. I have never understood why our governments spend SOOO MUCH FREAKING TIME (which translates into money) into trying to implement programs and rules that quite frankly will never stop those who want to take advantage or misuse funds from doing so. Just deal with the dirt bag who over charged on the card with personal stuff?!?!?! LIke…seriously!!!

    Our federal and provincial government are notorious for it. Punishing the masses for the mistakes of a few…while never holding those few responsible…it’s sad and such a WASTE!!!

    And just so we are clear…I adore and love your serious side!!! 🙂

    • Natalie – I’m not as radical as I used to be. Perhaps one of these days I’ll blog about the time I marched on DC in a protest. (Those were the days.) Of course that was long before I worked for the government and needed a secret clearance:) I still get totally ticked. Tom thought I was funny when I told him I planned to lighten up on my subject matter in 2013. He got that silly grin of his and gave me that sideways glance as he strolled back to his studio to work on designs.

  4. thoughtsfromanamericanwoman says:

    I have nominated you for the 2012 Blogger of the Year. Thank you for being such an inspiration! You can read the post here:

  5. Sheri, I have been a self-proclaimed A-political, agnostic for more years than I care to remember. This post reinforces the why of it all. I can give in to a higher power. I even believe in angels for Pete’s sake. But the mess that has become our government is on a slippery slope for decades and I don’t think legislation, administrations or mascinations will fix it. Sorry … but each time I read your posts it reinforces my belief in total anarchy.

    Oh well, since I’m way to old to over throw the bas$ar$s … I’ll grin and go my own way peacefully. Thanks for caring and continuing the good fight and have yourself a Merry Little Christmas … right now 🙂 Go and click on it !!

    • Florence – You funny woman you. I know I’m always going to get the dander up in your neck of the woods. I was actually going to throw away the VA blog and simply post my warning that I was going to do more ‘slices of life’ instead of ‘one woman’s opinion’ pieces in the New Year – and then I thought–I have to do this one for Florence. After all, it’ll be the last one except for some awards before the New Year:) Then, tonight I’ve sat here and written an article on contracted mental health care for the military, their families, and veterans–gurr! I won’t post it right away. I’ll keep it under my hat and save you the misery. Merry Christmas my friend and thanks for the music.

  6. Another extraordinarily informative blog post. I didn’t know anything about this credit card abuse, but it’s rampant in more agencies than the VA. My husband works for the Port of Oakland and they were crying “poor mouth” for the last year when all along their high-level executives were charging for “strippers” on their cards.

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