IRS Employees Nailed for Using Purchase Cards for Hand Sanitizer

As part of its regular monitoring of how tax agency staff deploy purchasing cards, the independent watchdog for the Internal Revenue Service found that effective safeguards are in place for discouraging use of the cards for personal spending—including buying hand sanitizer, cold medicine and boxes of tissue – though abuses have been uncovered.

The agency itself, to help enforce the 2012 Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act, found 30 cases of purchase card abuse totaling $4,000, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration noted in a report released on Thursday.

Twenty-nine of those cases “were associated with the purchase of prohibited items such as hand sanitizer, over-the-counter medication and tissues for office use,” TIGTA noted. “In accordance with IRS policy, bottles of hand sanitizer for the personal use of individual employees are considered personal items and may not be purchased absent a specific health threat such as a pandemic or other disease outbreak at a post-of-duty.” (Exceptions are made in the case of a pandemic or disease outbreak at a post of duty, or to support office accommodations for nursing mothers.)

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In one case that involved purchase of a $15 personal item, the watchdog noted that the vendor had both the employee’s personal and work credit card on file and charged the wrong one. That employee reimbursed the government. In five other cases, the purchased items were returned or charges were credited back to the IRS card, resulting in a total of about $1,600 in credits.

In 13 cases, employees were disciplined or admonished verbally or in writing; no discipline was applied in the other 17 cases beyond notification of the problem. “Based on IRS policy, a second offense by subject card holders could lead IRS management to take formal disciplinary actions,” TIGTA noted.

The Federal Acquisition Regulation, revised as of Oct. 7, 2015, limited a single micro-purchase to no more than $3,500 for goods, $2,500 for services and $2,000 for construction.  

Overall, the audit said, the IRS’s employee guidance to mitigate risk of fraud and abuse, as well as the Treasury Department’s credit card management plan, appear to be up to date and in order.

Auditors recommended that the IRS chief of agency-wide shared services issue a separate notification to all purchase card holders and their managers, reminding them of their responsibilities and listing specific prohibited items, such as hand sanitizers. IRS managers agreed.

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