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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