GAO checks out use of charge cards at the VA

GAO has released a report detailing problems with internal controls on the use of charge cards at the VA.

It seems that anytime an office of the inspector general or the General Accounting Office (GAO) wants to find problems with waste, fraud, and abuse, they only have to check out an agency’s use of charge cards or travel cards. You can read about some of the problems in the several reports on the left hand side of this page.

Another report on the use of agency charge cards is now out from GAO. This time, it is reviewing the use of charge cards in the Veterans Adminstration, specificially in the Veterans Health Administration.

The VA’s use of purchase cards came to the attention of the GAO when a report by the VA Office of Inspector General found examples of fraudulent use of agency charge cards in excess of $400,000 and questionable use of the cards totaling about $1.1 million.

GAO identified over $300,000 in purchases that it said were considered wasteful, meaning the items cost too much or were “for questionable government need,” or they were considered questionable because there was insufficient or no documentation to determine if the transaction was proper.

This report isn’t as likely to make most of the major newspapers in the country. Unlike some of the earlier reports on the use of government charge cards, there were no examples of tattoo parlors, sex shops, or rock concert tickets found.

But there were still more than enough examples of problems to create some interest.

For example, one employee purchased beer with a government charge card. He told investigators the beer was for a patient but had no documentation to indicate why it was necessary to purchase beer for a patient.

Another cardholder purchased more than $5000 from fine dining restaurants, movie theatres and a country club.

Investigators also found purchases from Hollywood Entertainment–a company which the cardholder said sold closed captioning services and that Hollywood Entertainment was actually the name of a related company. Investigators were obviously skeptical and could not find any documentation or evidence to support this cardholder’s claim.

The GAO made several conclusions regarding the use of charge cards at the agency. Internal controls were not designed to ensure improper purchases would be detected or prevented; where internal controls exist, they are not being followed; and until controls are strengthened and guidance is expanded and clarified, the agency will continue to risk spending money through the purchase card program for improper or questionable purchases.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47