By Robert Kittle
A follow-up report on a 2011 audit of state purchasing cards found that some recommendations to better protect your tax dollars have not been put in place.
The Legislative Audit Council published the initial audit in January 2011, after looking at the state's purchasing card program. There are about 10,000 state and local employees who have the cards, which allow them to make purchases for things like office supplies without having to go through a lengthy requisition or procurement process.
State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, whose office is responsible for the day-to-day oversight of the program, says the cards save taxpayers money in administrative costs. "The reduction in just handling individual invoices, going through the process of cutting individual checks to vendors, one payment's made to the bank," he says. "The bank takes that one payment, breaks it down to the vendors. So there are millions of dollars saved every year."
But there have been problems with the cards, including one state employee who defrauded a state agency of more than $200,000 using one.
So the LAC made recommendations to improve the system and better protect your tax dollars. The follow-up report found that 27 of the 33 recommendations have been put in place.
That includes setting up a system to block entire classes of merchants from being able to take the cards, so employees can't use them at those stores. Eckstrom says liquor stores are blocked, for example, since there's no reason for a state employee to be using state tax dollars to make a purchase there.
One of the recommendations that has not been implemented, though, is requiring all state agencies to report to the Comptroller General's office any disciplinary action taken against employees for misusing the purchasing cards.
Eckstrom says, "That information ought to be disclosed. You'd just have to be, the state, I would think, would have to be kind of careful about how it discloses that if there is ongoing litigation."
Another recommendation is that the details of all purchases made with the cards be put online on the Comptroller General's website. Right now, only some of the purchases are listed there.
Eckstrom says there's a practical reason all purchases are not listed. "Many vendors that take the card don't have the means to upload that data. A very, very small number of vendors that we deal with can. I think the number is about 2 percent of the vendors out there are able to electronically upload that data to the bank."
Besides saving the state money in administrative costs, the purchasing cards also give the state rebates, just like personal credit cards that offer cash back bonuses. Eckstrom says the state, as well as state and local agencies got almost $4.5 million back in rebates last year by using the cards.