Congress clears bill cracking down on purchase card abuse

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced the bill. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced the bill. Charlie Neibergall/AP file photo

In the waning hours of its session, Congress on Saturday passed a bill to toughen oversight of agency purchasing cards, codifying new penalties on federal employees who abuse the cards.

The Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act resurfaced abruptly, having been introduced in February 2011 by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, long before the Obama administration began its focused effort to cut waste in agency operations. It cleared the House in July with an amendment requiring Senate approval.

“This bill is about accountability,” said Grassley, who worked on the bill with co-sponsors Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. “The public trust has been violated by abusive use of government charge cards. By putting some common-sense controls into the law, we can make certain the federal bureaucracy improves the way it responsibly manages the use of these cards.”

Lieberman said in a statement that the Government Accountability Office and the inspectors general “have identified many examples of fraudulent or illegal use of these charge cards. Even at the General Services Administration, which administers the charge card program for the entire federal government, a high-ranking employee was able to rack up tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenditures on a government charge card.”

Grassley noted employees have used agency purchase and travel cards to buy kitchen appliances, jewelry, gambling excursions, cruises and visits to strip clubs and legalized brothels. The agencies that were put under the “spotlight” for abuse of the cards, he said, were the Defense and Housing and Urban Development departments, as well as the Forest Service and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The bill requires agencies that issue credit cards and convenience checks to, among other actions, improve record-keeping; train employees in use of the cards; perform credit checks on employees issued cards; require prompt payments to avoid interest charges; invalidate cards for employees who depart the agency; and conduct periodic reviews of which employees should be issued the cards.

Agency inspectors general are tasked with conducting regular risk management assessments of card use, and the Office of Management and Budget with reviewing and updating guidance on proper use of the cards.

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