GAO criticizes DHS for purchase card abuse

A new report from the Government Accountability Office finds that more than 100 laptop computers purchased with cards that the Homeland Security Department issued after hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast last year are missing and presumed stolen.

According to GAO, the computers purchased by employees of DHS' Federal Emergency Management Agency had a value of $300,000. More than 20 printers worth $84,000 are also missing and presumed stolen, the report states.

Another three laptop computers purchased by the Coast Guard are also missing and presumed stolen.

“A weak control environment and breakdowns in key controls” left DHS vulnerable to fraud and abuse, states the report, prepared with the participation of DHS’ Office of the Inspector General.

A draft Purchase Card Manual that contained effective control procedures to prevent such incidents was never finalized, the report states. The watchdog agency faulted DHS’ chief financial officer for a lack of leadership in resolving disagreements over the manual’s implementation.

A statistical sample of transactions found that 45 percent of the purchase card uses were not properly authorized, 63 percent had no documentation to show the purchased goods and services were received, and 53 percent did not give priority to designated procurement sources, the report states.

GAO said it recognized the extenuating circumstances at the time but added that cardholders “could have exercised greater prudence without jeopardizing relief efforts.”

Other examples of improper use of the cards included the purchase of a beer brewing kit, a 63-inch, $8,000 plasma TV and “tens of thousands of dollars for training at golf and tennis resorts,” the report states.

GAO referred cardholders responsible for such purchases to DHS for administrative action, the report states.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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