On July 22 of this year, the US Senate passed the Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act of 2011. Sponsored by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, the legislation will require federal agencies to put new safeguards and controls on government charge used by federal employees, and would require penalties for violations.
“This bill is about accountability,” Grassley said. “The public trust has been violated by the abusive use of government charge cards. The federal bureaucracy needs to improve the way it manages the use of these cards.”
Could it be true? Has the Senate actually passed legislation to ensure that federal bureaucrats wisely spend and properly account for taxpayer money? When you read the bill, you may become cautiously optimistic.
The legislation “requires each executive agency, except for the Department of Defense (DOD), to establish and maintain specified safeguards and internal controls for official purchase cards and convenience checks, including measures to ensure that:
- records are kept of each card holder and applicable transaction limits.
- rebates and refunds based on prompt payment, sales volume, or other agency actions on card accounts are reviewed for accuracy.
- periodic reviews are performed to determine whether each cardholder needs a card.
- effective systems, techniques, and technologies are used to prevent or identify fraudulent purchases.
- steps are taken to recover the cost of erroneous, improper, or illegal purchases made with a purchase card or convenience check through salary offsets.”
Then questions begin to arise. Why was the Department of Defense (DOD) excluded from this legislation? You can’t help thinking about the two ex-workers who accused Blackwater Security Company (a government contractor) of defrauding the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
As reported by Mark Mazzetti in the 2/10/10 New York Times, “Two former employees of Blackwater Worldwide have accused the private security company of defrauding the government for years by filing bogus receipts, double billing for the same services and charging government agencies from strippers and prostitutes, according to court documents unsealed this week.”
Reading further, you notice that the legislation “establishes similar requirements for the DOD”.
But you remain skeptical. Such employee expense oversight is practiced every day by private businesses ranging from Exxon to your local Mom and Pop gift shop. Did the federal government just realized that unsupervised employee charge cards can lead to fraud and abuse?
How many government employees have these charge cards? Will yet another bureaucracy be created just to administer them? And, shouldn’t across-the-board spending cuts be the first priority in addressing our fiscal crisis?
Then you discover that the very same measure was passed by the Senate in 2009. The legislation was never brought up in the House of Representatives.
It just shows that, with the federal government, you can never be too cynical.