Agencies under fire for credit card use

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Legislation to crack down on how federal agencies use their government-issued credit cards appears to be gaining steam in Washington.

The Senate last year unanimously passed legislation from Sen. Tom CarperTom CarperYahoo hack spurs push for legislation Election-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis MORE (D-Del.) that would create tighter oversight of the cards, partly in response to a May report that found cardholders in the Department of Defense had spent more than $100,000 at casinos and strip clubs.

An aide to Carper said the bill, known as the Saving Federal Dollars Through Better Use of Government Purchase and Travel Cards Act, is likely to be introduced soon in the House, once the right sponsor is found.

The legislation would establish a new office, the Office of Federal Charge Card Analytics and Review, charged with keeping close tabs on the purchases made by federal agencies and programs. 

As of now, finding out just how much money the government spends on credit and prepaid cards is difficult to discern. A spokeswoman in the Government Accountability Office told The Hill it didn’t have any records on card transactions to share.

Carper’s bill could change that by creating a clearinghouse for such information.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, said he “wholeheartedly supports” the legislation Carper introduced with lead co-sponsor Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyCruz: Precedent exists for keeping Supreme Court short-staffed Sanders to Justice Department: Block AT&T purchase of Time Warner Freeing the False Claims Act MORE (R-Iowa), but he would not say whether he plans to be the one to introduce it in the House.

“As we look at their bill we acknowledge their leadership and are earnestly looking for a way to support this under my subcommittee,” he said.

Carper put forward the legislation in June after the Defense Department’s inspector general released a report detailing card transactions that had been made from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014. The report said members of the military had racked up $952,258 on their travel cards at casinos and $96,576 at “adult entertainment establishments.”

In a statement to The Hill, Carper said the IG report made it clear to him that something needed to be done to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent responsibly.

“Our bill builds on similar legislation from last Congress and includes several recommendations from the IG report that can quickly be implemented by not only the Department of Defense but also other federal agencies,” he said, later adding that he’s hopeful his House colleagues will take up what he called “commonsense legislation.”

The earlier legislation referenced is the Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act, which Grassley was able to get passed in 2012.

That bill requires agency inspectors general to conduct periodic assessments and audits of card purchases to identify and analyze risks of illegal, improper or erroneous use.

Carper has said his bill would build on that legislation by adding another layer of government oversight. Despite the agency reviews, abuse has been a persistent problem, he says.

Beyond the Defense Department, watchdog reports in recent years have found that employees in the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Labor have abused or misused both government-issued credit and prepaid cards.

Citing some of those reports, lawmakers at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Government Operations in October 2014 said the Coast Guard had spent $12,000 over the course of 2013 at a Starbucks in California; the Bureau of Land Management had spent $800,000 on gift cards; and employees of a Miami Job Corps office of the Labor Department had used prepaid cards to visit the hair salon, buy clothes and pay personal phone bills.