Government charge card abuse a firing offense under new OMB guidelines

Monday - 9/9/2013, 1:33pm EDT

Federal employees who make illegal or improper purchases with government charge cards could face dismissal under new guidelines from the Office of Management and Budget.

In a memo to the heads of agencies, OMB Director Sylvia Burwell laid out new steps to curb charge-card violations as part of the implementation of the 2012 Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act.

The law, approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last fall, ordered agencies to firm up internal safeguards for identifying and stopping unauthorized purchases.

By Sept. 30, agencies need to certify to OMB that they have internal controls in place, according to the memo. Agencies are expected to develop specific penalties for employees who violate charge card policies. Employees who make "illegal, improper or erroneous" purchases with government cards should face disciplinary actions, including dismissal, the memo stated.

Burwell has tasked agency human resources and charge card management officials with developing the proper penalties for violations.

OMB's guidelines also instruct agencies to report government charge card violations at least twice a year. The new reporting requirements go into effect this year for agencies that spend more than $10 million annually on charge cards. The semi-annual reports will have to detail all purchase card violations as well as the disciplinary actions taken. The first report is due Jan. 31.

The 2012 law also instructed agency inspectors general to conduct periodic risk assessments on the use of agency charge cards. Agency IGs are now required to compile an annual status report on charge card audit recommendations.

Both the House and the Senate approved the 2012 law along bipartisan lines last year.

Bill sponsor Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) pointed to misuse of charge cards by employees at the Defense Department and the Federal Aviation Administration, and in years past, the Government Accountability Office identified cases where federal employees used government charge cards to pay for jewelry and cruises.

More recently, the Internal Revenue Service IG reported that between 2010 and 2011, IRS employees made nearly $108 million in questionable purchases using agency charge cards. Some of the unauthorized purchases included romance novels and diet pills.

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