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Reps. Rice, Pappas, and Bergman Call for Stronger Oversight of VA Purchase Card Program

Recent OIG report revealed there may be up to $920 million of potentially erroneous, improper, or illegal spending through VA purchase card program

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Washington, August 2, 2019 | comments

WASHINGTON – Representative Chris Pappas (NH-01), who serves as the Chair of the Oversight and Investigations (O&I) Subcommittee for the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, alongside O&I Ranking member Jack Bergman (MI-01) and Committee member Kathleen Rice (NY-04), sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to express concern over the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) oversight of its government charge card program. 

The Members’ concerns stem from the recent report Annual Risk Assessment of the VA’s Charge Card Program which assessed that the purchase card program, which makes up $4.8 billion of the VA’s annual spending is at risk for waste, fraud, and abuse. 

“OIG’s estimate that between 5 and 20 percent of transactions are at risk equates on average to between $230 million and $920 million of potentially erroneous, improper, or illegal spending,” the bipartisan group of Members wrote in the letter. “There was a notable spike in fiscal year-end spending in 2018, which may represent unnecessary or wasteful purchases. OIG also documented continued inadequate data collection, which impedes conclusive determinations as to which transactions are wasteful or illegal, and which are merely inaccurately recorded or reported.”

The letter requested a briefing on the purchases card program, and how the Department plans to use analytics to detect improper or fraudulent payments. 

The full text of the letter is available below.  

Dear Mr. Secretary: 

We write to express our continued concerns with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) oversight of its government charge card program.

Earlier this month, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its Annual Risk Assessment of VA’s Charge Card Programs, which determined that the purchase card program, which makes up the vast majority of VA’s $4.8 billion annual charge card spending, remains at medium risk for waste, fraud, and abuse. OIG’s estimate that between 5 and 20 percent of transactions are at risk equates on average to between $230 million and $920 million of potentially erroneous, improper, or illegal spending.

While the number of potential “split purchases” has declined modestly from last year, potential duplicate transactions continue to make up about one-fourth of all transactions, and the number of purchase card holders assigned to each approving official continues to be excessive. There was a notable spike in fiscal year-end spending in 2018, which may represent unnecessary or wasteful purchases. OIG also documented continued inadequate data collection, which impedes conclusive determinations as to which transactions are wasteful or illegal, and which are merely inaccurately recorded or reported.

Strong internal controls and oversight practices are crucial for VA given the large size and rate of growth of the purchase card program. Relatedly, the Government Accountability Office has reviewed VA commodity spending and documented a pattern of purchasing large quantities of medical supplies on an emergency basis, often using purchase cards, as opposed to employing more systematic inventory and supply practices.

We request a briefing for subcommittee staff by August 30, 2019, on VA oversight of its purchase card program, as well as travel and fleet cards. This should include the department’s use of analytic tools to detect and prevent improper payments and fraud. The briefing should also include plans for reducing the level of risk identified by the OIG, such as developing enhanced tools and methods for identifying questionable charge card transactions and recovering improper payments. 

We ask that your staff contact Peter Tyler, majority staff director for the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, at (202) 225-9756 and Christopher McNamee, minority staff director for the subcommittee, at (202) 225-3527 to schedule the briefing. Thank you for your attention to these important issues.

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Tags: Veterans

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