Lawmaker offers plan for curbing purchase card misuse

Bill intended to reduce wasteful spending would increase purchase card spending analysis and GSA bargain-hunting efforts.

Government purchase cards were hailed in the 1990s as an effective way of saving money and cutting staff, but illicit and careless use of the charge cards repeatedly has drawn congressional ire.

On Friday, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced the 2005 Purchase Card Waste Elimination Act, which would increase oversight of the program originally designed to simplify the process that agencies use to purchase items worth less than $2,500.

Since their inception in the late '90s, purchase cards have been a source of fraud and misuse. The Government Accountability Office has reported instances where workers used the charge cards to pay for non-work related items such as designer briefcases, leather jackets, compact discs, prostitutes, golf games, clothes, mortgage payments, personal trips, and even photos of Elvis Presley bought at Graceland.

Collins' bill does not address intentional fraud as much as it encourages agencies to increase efforts to educate workers on the proper use of purchase cards and generate discounts for government shoppers.

Under the bill, the Office of Management and Budget would issue guidelines for agencies on analyzing charge card purchases and negotiating discounts with companies that accept the cards. OMB would also create communication programs to make sure card holders know about store discounts and issue guidelines for assessing card holders' purchasing practices.

The General Services Administration would be required under the legislation to pursue discounts with large suppliers such as Wal-Mart and The Home Depot, and to continue improving the reports from banks issuing the purchase cards.

Lawmakers were told during a hearing last year that $300 million could be saved through better management of the card program, but a bill identical to the one Collins introduced last week failed to make it out of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and only picked up one co-sponsor.