Administration to order agencies to set limits on purchase cards

Fewer people in the federal government will be able to utter the words "charge it" in the coming months. That's because the Office of Management and Budget will soon set limits on the number of purchase cards agencies can issue to employees.

Angela Styles, OMB administrator for federal procurement policy, called the number of purchase cards currently floating around the government "unacceptable" during a Jan. 30 briefing. At some agencies, she said, one out of every four employees has a purchase card. By comparison, OMB has three cards for 500 employees.

"If more than 25 percent of your employees have purchase cards, then there is clearly a problem," she said.

The limits, which could be announced as early as next month, would apply governmentwide. OMB will make exceptions only in rare cases, Styles said.

OMB Director Mitch Daniels said the total number of cards issued could be reduced by at least 10 percent.

Purchase cards allow federal workers to charge up to $2,500 without going through the paperwork required for larger procurements. The 1998 Travel and Transportation Reform Act requires federal employees to use government charge cards, instead of personal credit cards, for travel expenses. In fiscal 2001, Defense Department employees put $6.1 billion on purchase cards and another $3.4 billion on travel cards.

The General Accounting Office, members of Congress and others have called attention to significant abuses in charge card oversight. For instance, audits have found that Defense employees used charge cards to pay for prostitutes, lap dances, golf outings, clothes, compact discs, leather goods, jewelry, flowers, food and other unauthorized purchases and services.