Senate Passes Bill to 'Crack Down' on Feds Spending Improperly

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., introduced the bill. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., introduced the bill. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Federal employees could soon face increased oversight on their use of government travel and purchase cards, with the Senate unanimously approving a measure aimed at curbing misuse and abuse of spending.

The Saving Federal Dollars Through Better Use of Government Purchase and Travel Cards Act would task the General Services Administration with combing through the governmentwide data it already maintains to identify “patterns of potential misuse,” the bill’s authors said. Currently, the oversight occurs only at the agency level. The bill would direct agencies to share details of schemes they revealed and other information that might help their counterparts locate similar abuses.

The interagency information sharing and collaboration would enable agencies to better leverage their purchasing power through strategic sourcing, the senators sponsoring the bill said. The data may reveal items multiple agencies are purchasing individually that they could instead buy together with a negotiated discount.

“By helping agencies better track and analyze card charges, we can curb wasteful spending and ensure taxpayer dollars are spent more wisely and effectively across the federal government,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who introduced the bill.

Congress in 2012 passed the Government Charge Card Abuse Act, which boosted recordkeeping, training, credit checks, prompt payments and other oversight measures related to purchase cards and the employees authorized to use them. That bill was buoyed by a 2009 Office of Management and Budget circular implementing improvements to the procedures governing the program and a 2014 executive order to increase security of charge card operations.

The new bill would “make sure we’re looking for similar patterns of misuse across all federal agencies and that agencies are sharing best practices to prevent misuse and identify potential cost savings,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, a cosponsor on the legislation and author of the 2012 measure.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who also signed onto the bill, said it would bring accountability to rogue federal workers.

“I’m glad to have come together with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to crack down on federal employees who are using government dollars for their own personal gain,” McCaskill said.

Auditors have identified several high-profile instances of feds misusing their government charge cards in recent years; Defense Department employees in 2015 were found to use their government cards to make more than $1 million in purchases at casinos and to pay escorts. Other recent examples of government charge card abuses include U.S. Postal Service employees who went gambling and bowling on their government cards, and Forest Service workers who used their cards for personal trips to gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores.

The Senate also unanimously approved a similar bill in the previous Congress, but it never received a vote in the House.

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