Jan. 25, 2004 – A recent General Accounting Office (GAO) study reports the United Service Organization (USO) treated entertainers to about $433,000 of taxpayer money for expenses such as first-class plane tickets, liquor, limousine services and unsupported production support and honorariums during fiscal years 2000 through 2002.
The GAO based the report on a sample of 11 USO sponsored tours. The USO provides entertainment to US troops serving overseas.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the tours featured performers like Jennifer Lopez and Wayne Newton Drew Carey, Jessica Simpson, and Joan Jett in places ranging from Guantanamo Bay to Italy to Pakistan.
While the celebrities in question did not do anything unethical or illegal, luxury expenses are supposed to be paid out of private donations to the USO, not funds provided by Congress, said the Times.
The USO blamed the expense run-ups on inexperienced employees and poor bookkeeping. The GAO report has nonetheless prompted the Pentagon to start its own investigation of all USO tours dating from 1998. According to the Times, it has found another $73,000 in federal money that was improperly spent.
The revelations came after Florida Republican Bill Young, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, ordered the study to ensure a $23 million in grant money for the USO was being properly spent, reports the Times.
The USO-Lo flap comes during a renewed wave of interest in war profiteering as the Democratic presidential campaign race heats up in New Hampshire and President Bush attempts to explain away his stated reasons for invading and occupying Iraq in the state of the union address. For example, the Asia Times Online reports that Bechtel, a corporation with close ties to the Bush Administration which stands to collect $20 billion in reconstruction contracts "in the next few years" has yet to provide electricity on a regular basis to the civilian power grid.