House considers purchase card oversight bill

The House could soon pass a bill on the abuse of government purchase cards by putting more emphasis on better management on transactions. Passage had been expected July 31, but the day ended without a vote.

The Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act (S. 300) would put more record-keeping on the federal employees who have credit cards. The bill would require agencies to keep track of all their card holders and the associated spending limits. It would require approval and the reconciliation of transactions. Payments would have to be timely and accurate, while officials recover improper or even illegal purchases.

Agencies would have to take appropriate actions against employees, including removal, for employees who violate travel card guidelines or commit fraud.

Also, agencies with annual travel card transactions totaling more than $10 million would have to report to the Office of Management and Budget on purchase card violations.

The Senate passed the bill in April by unanimous consent.

In its review of the legislation, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee noted that the government has saved both time and money with credit cards. However, a small number of employees have abused their privileges. Government employees have used purchase cards to subscribe to Internet dating services, buy video iPods for personal use, and pay for lavish dinners that included top-shelf liquor, according to a Government Accountability Office report from 2008. The result is unnecessary and sometimes fraudulent expenses on agencies' tabs.

Since 1988, federal employees have been required to use government charge cards for expenses associated with official government travel. GAO has reported throughout the last decade on weak controls inside agencies. In the past, GAO has also found a significant number of transactions that officials have not been able to track.

Meanwhile, Congress has tried to pass this legislation and send it to the White House, but lawmakers have failed to do so. In 2009, the Senate passed a version of the bill and the House passed its version. The two couldn't resolve their differences, leaving the bill hanging.

With the House’s expected passage, the legislation may have to cross that same hurdle again.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Wed, Sep 5, 2012

There are already laws and regulations that manage GPCs. Enforce them. Oh, but that would mean that Congressman/woman would not be able to tell the people of their districts that they did something to fix something that already was against the law. Sorry, this kind of stuff has turned me into a real cynic.

Fri, Aug 24, 2012 Govt Employee

I have NEVER understood why the Govt mandates use of the travel card. What is the benefit to the Govt? No one has ever explained this to us. Should there be an OPTION for such a card, in case an employee does not have (or does not wish to use) his or her own credit card? Sure. But why mandate it? We (the employees) are personally responsible to pay that bill, in full, each month. So even if someone DID use the Govt travel card for personal items, the Govt is NOT going to be paying for any of those items. The only items that the Govt pays for are the legitimate expense items on the expense report, regardless of how they were paid for. And God only knows how much the Govt is paying for the "privilege" of having a travel card. Is it worth the cost??? This is the investigation that should be undertaken -- what the benefit is (if any) to the government of having (and mandating use of) the travel card, what the costs of the program are, and if the benefits justify the costs!

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 LuP

I am an APC for the GCPC-used for the purchase of supplies and materials,not the Travel Card. I recently was scheduled to use my travel card for less than $2000. When I checked my availability on the card, I had $7500 limit and $600+ could be withdrawn in cash. It seems to me a more realistic amount could be put on the travel card, based on how much you should use it for. I had $5000 too much on my card and could have abused it. I realize the controls may not be as good on the Travel Card as they are on the GCPC and partly I am sure because they do not have the individuals to monitor the program. If I had been inclined, I could have used a chunk of change to make purchases with my Travel Card.

Wed, Aug 1, 2012 RayW

As pointed out by Civ, there are two different subjects here.

1. the purchase card is scrutinized to the point where are card holders take two days off a month just to justify and reconcile transactions, so now they will have to take off 4 days?

2. Travel cards suck. I am responsible for all purchases on the card, it is my credit report that is fouled up by someone getting the kickback on the card, and it is so limited that about every third trip I have a restaurant (normal family type) decline the card because it is declined for in-appropriate use. I now only use it for the car, gas, hotel, and airline, the "mandatory" uses. I can not understand why some folks think it is abused, since DTS only allows certain transactions, anything else I have to pony up the cash for. I suspect the Washington DC folks may have a different card than use peons out west.

Wed, Aug 1, 2012 A-123 Civ Agency

The article refers to "Purchase Card" and "Travel Card" interchangeably. Actually, these are two separate purchase instruments used for different applications and each has its own set of rules. Lack of oversight for both instruments is a huge problem. Unfortunately, internal control oversight offices within federal agencies are afterthoughts and woefully underfunded.

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