The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is cracking down on inappropriate employee uses of agency credit cards and incentive gift cards, and investigating past abuses, officials in Washington said Tuesday.
The agency, which manages about 42 percent of the lands in Utah, is responding to a directive from Deputy Director Michael Pool to better police employee purchases. Pool discontinued the use of retail gift cards as work rewards after alleged abuses and told all BLM state directors to closely manage billing of agency firefighting hours. He called the fire billing "scamming the system with no managerial oversight and detection systems in place," according to an internal memo released by the agency.
BLM spokesman Tom Gorey, in Washington, said he could not say how much money was involved. The agency is continuing its investigation, he said.
"We've got to do a better job of monitoring and auditing," he said, "because these abuses have reached at least a level that [Pool] is clearly sending a message."
He added that such internal audits frequently raise issues. "We're an agency of 10,000-plus employees. There's going to be a percentage that misuse their credit cards and do other things in violation of our regulations."
In his email, Pool asked the state directors and agency fire-suppression leaders to respond with new procedures by this month. In Utah, spokeswoman Beverly Gorny said, the state office reported that it will conduct training for appropriate purchasing procedures.
Sometimes in the past, she said, fire crews in particular have made quick purchases of needed equipment from the nearest retail outlet at a higher than usual cost. She said the state office's investigation has shown no evidence that those kinds of purchases led to any personal profit to the employees.
Two Utah employees, though, last year were convicted on federal charges and ordered to pay restitution in the thousands of dollars. Gorny said she is aware of no other Utah criminal cases surrounding the issue, and the U.S. Attorney's Office said it has not filed any other charges.
Though Pool referred to firefighting billing practices as "culturally rampant" and "scamming," Gorny said it does not appear anyone in Utah profited. Instead, she said, the BLM noticed crews billing hours to the wrong outside agencies or property owners partners such as railroads or state agencies, for which BLM crews routinely suppress fires and corrected the problem before receiving reimbursement.