luchunyu/Shutterstock.com

Join a Gym or Get Your Hair Done, Sometimes on Uncle Sam’s Plastic

House Members seek improved enforcement of Government Charge Card Abuse Act.

Given the thousands of agency employees who carry purchasing or travel cards, some misuse would seem inevitable.

The most egregious case cited by Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., at a Tuesday hearing involved some $31,000 spent by Coast Guard employees in fiscal 2013 at a Starbucks in Alameda, Calif. That was followed by details on Job Corps contractors in Miami who in a recent year used travel cards to pay close to $100,000 for trips to the hair salon, clothing and personal phone bills.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, three cardholders purchased gym memberships that required pre-payment for services totaling $2,867, an inspector general testified to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The hearing featured updates on IG reports released this winter and spring.

“I don’t mean to say its rampant abuse, credit cards gone wild, but it’s significant abuse,” said Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Mica. He was joined by ranking member Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., on Tuesday in writing to the Government Accountability Office to request that it evaluate agency compliance with the 2012 Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act.

In introducing the hearing, Connolly stressed a bipartisan interest in curbing waste and abuse. But he cautioned that the abuses should be viewed in context. “It is vital that we not overreact in response to outrageous, yet isolated, incidents of abuse, with broad, one-size-fits-all restrictions that revert our federal procurement system back to a pre-1998 era, which featured higher administrative burdens and more cumbersome bureaucracy that resulted from agencies being unable to utilize government charge cards as a low-cost method to streamline acquisition processes,” he said.

The witnesses from EPA, Homeland Security, the Labor Department and the Air Force largely agreed, and credited their agencies with some progress toward better training and standardization of compliance standards.

Administered by the General Services Administration, the Government Purchase Card program gives agencies—except for the Defense Department, which has a separate program—localized flexibility for “micropurchases” capped at $3,000. The cards save money on transaction processing, ease auditing and, in some cases, earn rebates for the government.

Homeland Security, among the largest purchasers, in fiscal 2013 authorized 9,700 employees to use purchase cards for 925 million purchases valued at about $439 million, according to Anne Richards, assistant inspector general for audits. “Consistent application of controls and vigilant management oversight minimizes fraudulent, improper, abusive or questionable purchase card usage, but the inherent risks cannot be eliminated,” she said.

Nor can poor following of procedures. At EPA, 75 of 80 of transactions (94 percent) recently reviewed were not in compliance with EPA policies, of which $79,254 was identified as prohibited, improper and erroneous purchases, testified Janet Kasper, director of the IG’s Contracts and Assistance Agreement Audits.

At Labor—which Mica praised for getting an early handle on the problem—assistant inspector general for audits Elliot Lewis estimated that Job Corps center contractors racked up $4.2 million in “questionable travel costs” from July 1, 2011, through Sept. 30, 2012. “This mismanagement of Job Corps student travel costs occurred because Job Corps did not regularly review or monitor government travel card expenses to ensure expenses were prudent and allowable in accordance with the Federal Travel Regulation and departmental policy,” he said. “Instead, Job Corps placed reliance on the centers to verify the reasonableness and allowability of their own expenses.”

The agency considered a model for proper monitoring of purchasing cards, Mica said, is the Air Force, whose compliance tools were described on Tuesday by two officials. “The Air Force leveraged use of the card during fiscal 2013 executing nearly 1.5 million transactions for a total expenditure of approximately $1.2 billion,” Deputy Assistant Secretary for Contracting John Lyle said. “Used in place of a written purchase order, these actions returned $14.7 million in rebates to Air Force wings, units and organizations worldwide, and created an estimated $105 million in administrative savings.”

Lyle pronounced himself willing to consider any potential benefits to the Air Force from the coming audits by the civilian agencies on how to improve compliance.

In the end, Connolly said, “We need an explicit prohibition on misuse of credit cards” so that no one thinks there is any kind of government purpose served by using such cards to visit the hair salon.

(Image via   / Shutterstock.com)

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.