NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Sequestration has taken effect, the Air Force and the Department of Defense have taken steps to control the use of appropriated funds. Even so, service members and DOD civilians will still need to travel.
During a TDY or permanent change of station, Airmen traveling on orders will use the Government Travel Charge Card program to cover the cost of official travel. Some Airmen may not be familiar with the ins and outs of how to use their GTCCs and end up hurting themselves and the Air Force financially.
The GTCC program gives Airmen the funds to travel for official business without causing undue strain on their personal finances. The policy of the DOD is that the GTCC will be used by all DOD Members to pay for all costs related to official government travel. Official government travel is travel under orders while performing duties pertaining to official government assignments.
It is a tool meant to help uniformed members and civilian employees.
Before being issued a GTCC, every member who is a part of the program must sign a statement of understanding and complete a computer-based training course to learn about its proper use.
“The problem with the CBT is sometimes people just click through and don’t get the information that they need,” said Airman 1st Class Hoang Vuong, 99th Comptroller Squadron base agency program coordinator and lead defense travel administrator.
“Most of the misuse we see is accidental, the majority of the time it is first-term Airmen who have never had a GTCC before and don’t know how to use it,” said Senior Airman Kayla Ciriello, 99th Comptroller Squadron special actions section customer service technician.
Sometimes people are unclear on the specific process pertaining to paying the debt on their GTCC, Vuong said. A lot of people don’t realize if they charge food on their GTCC, it will not get paid off directly. Meals are charged as per-diem and when the travel voucher is paid off the split disbursement for meals goes into their personal account. The amount they charged for meals on their GTCC will stay on their GTCC until they physically pay it from their own account using the money from the split disbursement.
Another common issue is the length of time it takes to file a voucher.
“When there is an issue with a member’s voucher, we won’t accept it and we will kick it back to them,” Ciriello said. “Sometimes the members are not checking their emails or not staying on top of their vouchers and they go overdue after 75 days of receiving their bill.”
“The individual member is ultimately responsible for the payment for their GTCC no matter what,” Vuong said.
Willful misuse of the GTCC may constitute a crime punishable under federal or state law.
“We had an Airman that tried to claim a $15,000 TDY,” said Staff Sgt. Ariel Hunsuckle, 99th Comptroller Squadron special actions NCO in charge and deputy disbursing officer. “He wasn’t on any special assignment; just a routine TDY and he claimed $8,000 worth of gas.”
The GTCC program allows members to charge lodging, meals and travel related expenses, but there are auditors reviewing travel vouchers to make sure those claims make sense.
“He was only going from Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.,” Hunsuckle said. “I looked up his bills and saw that he was using his GTCC at places like Best Buy and buying major appliances.”
Just because a member makes a claim does not mean it will be automatically reimbursed.
“I computed his charges and came up with about $1,500,” Hunsuckle said. “It was definitely willful misuse. It was absolutely wrong to try and pay his card off with government money hoping no one would notice.”
When there is evidence of willful misuse of a GTCC, an investigation will be launched and the member may be charged with Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for failure to obey a lawful order, as well as any other applicable articles based on the nature of the misconduct involved.
“The first sergeant for his squadron emailed our division chief because this member was claiming that his card was not paid in full,” Hunsuckle said. “The division chief came to me and asked what was happening and it launched a huge investigation. The member was separated from the Air Force for willful misuse of the GTCC. At its most basic [element] it demonstrates a complete lack of integrity and there are many UCMJ articles that can be used against someone for it.”
One important thing to remember about the GTCC is that it is a credit card and it will negatively impact a holder’s credit score if it is abused or not paid off on time.
Most of the misuse is accidental, Vuong said. There is no actual list of everything that can be charged and everything that can’t. The card should only be used for travel when a member is on orders but if anyone has questions on using their GTCC they should email firstname.lastname@example.org.