Congress Takes Aim at Millions in Fraud on Government Credit Cards
Policy + Politics

Congress Takes Aim at Millions in Fraud on Government Credit Cards

© Stelios Varias / Reuters

Congress has long struggled to prevent the fraudulent use of government credit cards, and now Senate lawmakers think it’s time for another crackdown on the millions of dollars of waste seen each year.

Late Wednesday night the chamber approved by unanimous consent Democratic legislation directing the General Services Administration (GSA) to create an Office of Federal Charge Card Analytics and Review, which would be responsible for supervising how federal agencies and program use their plastic to make purchases.

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“While federal agencies have made progress in strengthening financial controls over government travel and purchase cards, more needs to be done to eliminate wasteful charge card spending,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), who introduced the bill last summer, said in a statement.

“Congress must continue to work across the aisle to ensure that federal agencies crack down on charge card abuse and taxpayer dollars are being spent responsibly across the federal government,” he added.

The legislation, which now goes to the House, bolsters a 2012 law instructing federal agencies to firm up internal safeguards for identifying and stopping unauthorized purchases.

That law was inspired in part by a report earlier this year from the Defense Department finding that government credit card holders from across the agency improperly spent more than $1 million at casinos and adult entertainment clubs in a single year, according to Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Related: More Federal Workers Abusing Government Credit Cards

“Our bill will make sure we’re looking for similar patterns of misuse across all federal agencies and that agencies are sharing best practices to prevent misuse and identify potential cost savings,” Grassley, who backed both waste measures, said in a statement.

Of course, the Pentagon is hardly the only federal government agency experiencing such abuse. An audit by the Veterans Affairs Department last year found employees spent $650,000 in improper credit card purchases.

Likewise, the inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency reported that some agency’s employees had used their federal charge cards to buy gym memberships for themselves and their family members.

Echoing Grassley, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said the new bill is about more than catching employees red-handed. The data gleaned from the new layer of oversight can help Congress determine if the government is making smart purchases.

"We can use this data to find fraudulent uses of employee cards and determine where agencies are repetitively spending money on items that could be bought in bulk at lower cost,” said Johnson, chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.