Monday, May 21, 2007


Have you ever been so boggled by what's happening that you don't know where to start, so instead you just make unintelligible noises until the stuttering trails off in a garbled heap of sound?

Yeah, me, too.

Let's start with the fact that thousands of federal government workers nationwide are defrauding the government by selling transit vouchers given to them as benefits of their employment ("OMB Moves to Curb Resale of Federal Transit Benefits," The Washington Post, 5/17/07).

These are people who, presumably, understand their benefits. As a government worker myself, I have to assume my federal counterparts are reasonably intelligent. And yet people claimed subsidies for service they didn't use — people who drove to work accepted benefits for mass transit they did not use or billed the government for an amount more than their transportation cost them. Some employees continued to receive transit benefits for years after ending their employment with the federal government — then turned around and sold them on eBay.

In short, they stole. They chose to take subsidies that did not belong to them. They chose to not return that which they did not use, earn, deserve. They chose to steal.

In response, OMB is going to re-write policy to try to reduce fraud, with the understanding that it “never will be eliminated.”

There are two responsible parties: the employer and the employee. It is the responsibility of the employee to accept only that which they use or to which they are reasonably entitled. It is the responsibility of the employer to make sure benefits are not extended to those who do not qualify.

Some of the examples are mind-boggling. Someone receives benefits for five years after leaving the government and, instead of returning that which does not belong to her, she sells it. On eBay. Even if she sells it for a portion of its value, it’s pure profit for her. Another employee drives to work yet accepts a mass transit compensation — and the employee receives a parking space at the building to where she is supposed to take mass transit.

I know wires get crossed. I know when there are thousands of employees, it’s hard for employers to keep everything straight. Heck, I can barely keep myself straight half the time. That is why individual character still counts for so much.

I also can see how employees might see the voucher as “theirs.” They are entitled to certain benefits, they think, and they will receive them at all cost. If employees are granted a half-hour once a week to work in a mentor program, do employees who take the half-hour but not work in the mentor program steal from their employers? Absolutely.

We are responsible for our own actions. Accidents are accidents — “Oh, the employee voucher is good only when I’m an employee? Silly me!” In fact, I’d be less angry if employees continued to use the benefits after they left. These are people who are not using them before or after employment. They are selling them. They are not entitled to them if they do not use them. Theft is theft.

To combat this abuse, the government is re-writing policy: enacting the equivalent of the "HOT COFFEE" warning on a McDonald's coffee cup.

We should know better. Even if our employer misses a beat, forgets, doesn’t pay attention — even if we can get away with it, we should not. We know the coffee is hot. We know selling an employee transit card on eBay is wrong, even if we are not expressly forbidden to do it in established policy. We know better, and we should act accordingly. We each should be our best — because if we are not, who will be?

No comments: