Federal Manager's Daily Report

Seven years after enactment of a law designed to strengthen controls over improper spending on government-issued purchase cards, many of the same types of problems that led to passage of that law remain, a Congressional Research Service Report says.

The CRS examined compliance with the Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, which required agencies to carry out a specific set of internal controls, establish penalties for employees who misuse agency purchase cards, and conduct periodic risk assessments and audits of agency purchase card programs. That was a reaction to reports from agency IGs and the GAO documenting abuses including use of the cards to purchase personal items such as electronics, cameras and jewelry; in one case a cardholder “used his purchase card to buy a beer brewing kit—and then brewed alcohol while on duty.”

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It said that audits since that time have found many of the underlying problems have continued, including:

* failure to block purchases from sources that pose a high risk of improper spending such as casinos and cruise lines;

* excessive costs from purchasing from other than preapproved providers;

* paying sales taxes even though the government is exempt from them;

* splitting transactions for the same product or service in order to keep the cost of each purchase below thresholds where more scrutiny would apply;

* lack of training for cardholders and approving officials;

* unclear and incomplete agency policies; and

* continuing activity on closed accounts.

The report suggested that Congress ask the GAO to review such issues and to assess whether new technologies since the 2012 law could be incorporated into charge card programs to reduce the risks of improper spending.