As a nation we take care of those who can’t take care of themselves, but nothing is more angering than when government employees abuse their access to rip off the social safety net.

In Maryland a handful of employees with the federal government’s watchdog group, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), have been indicted on charges that they fudged their income –either under reporting or not reporting – so that their kids could qualify for free or reduced-price lunches at school.

These workers were earning salaries that ranged from $55,000 to $78,000 a year, but ripped off the program designed for children who truly qualify for it. For reduced lunch (just 40 cents) a family of four must have an income of $43,568 or less. Lunch is free if your family’s income is less than about $30,000.

One of the employees is also a member of a county board of education. She’s scheduled to leave the board this month for graduate studies.

Over four years the five AO employees along with a spouse of a separate GAO worker allegedly defrauded the public of $13,000. That’s a smidgen of the $11.6 billion it cost us in fiscal year 2012 to serve more than 31.6 million children lunches each day. However, wrong-doing should not be overlooked and it’s important that they be prosecuted.

The GAO was doing something right. They discovered that their workers were fraudulently ripping off school lunches during an audit of the federal program and forwarded their names to the Inspector General’s Office for investigation. The report from May of 2014 found that these six are not alone, about 300 federal employees may have been abusing the federal reduced-price school lunch program in total.

The Washington Post reports:

When the GAO discovered that some if its own employees were flagged in the audit, the agency’s Office of the Inspector General investigated the matter and forwarded its findings to prosecutors in Prince George’s, where getting a conviction would be much easier than in the federal court system, officials said.

“We were both disappointed and surprised during the course of our investigation into school lunch fraud to discover some of our own employees might be involved,” GAO spokesman Chuck Young said in a statement. “We will now be monitoring the judicial process and then determine what personnel actions might be appropriate.”

The GAO has referred the other federal employees flagged from the audit to the U.S. Agriculture Department, to various school boards and to human services departments in three states and the District, Young said.

“These indictments send a clear message that stealing federal funds intended for the poor, or for anyone else, will simply not be tolerated,” according to a statement from Adam Trzeciak, the inspector general for the GAO.

[John Erzen, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office] said that although $13,000 among six people over four years may not be much money, this is an important case for prosecutors to pursue.

“It’s concerning when you have a public official . . . who is actually committing fraud against the very system she is helping to advance,” Erzen said. “It seems like a lot of trouble to go through for such a small amount of money.”

Finally, a federal agency that takes fraud within its ranks seriously! Too often we report salacious stories of federal workers run amok and charging their misbehavior and illegal activity on the taxpayer charge card. We're glad that in this instance it is not being accepted.  Kudos to the investigators for not glossing over this.  We can only wish that  agencies like the VA, the IRS, and the Secret Service policed themselves, but it is a feature of big government that this kind of internal vigilance is all too rare.