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Misuse of Government Purchase Cards: Background, Legislation, and Analysis


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Following their introduction in the mid-1990s, the usage of government purchase cards expanded at a rapid rate. Spurred by legislative and regulatory reforms designed to increase the use of purchase cards for small acquisitions, the dollar volume of government purchase card transactions grew from $527 million in FY1993 to $19.5 billion in FY2011. While the use of purchase cards was credited with reducing administrative costs during that time, audits of agency purchase card programs found varying degrees of waste, fraud, and abuse. One of the most common risk factors cited by auditors was a weak internal control environment: many agencies failed to implement adequate safeguards against card misuse, even as their purchase card programs grew. In response to these findings, Congress passed the Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 (Charge Card Act; P.L. 112-194), which sought to enhance the management and oversight of agency purchase card programs. Drawing on recommendations from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Charge Card Act required executive branch agencies to implement a specific set of internal controls, establish penalties for employees who misuse agency purchase cards, and conduct periodic risk assessments and audits of agency purchase card programs. This report begins by providing background on the origin and structure of agency purchase card programs. It then discusses identified weaknesses in agency purchase card controls that have contributed to card misuse, and examines provisions of the Charge Card Act that are intended to address those weaknesses. Finally, the report examines implementation of the Charge Card Act and analyzes ongoing risks to agency purchase card programs.



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