Credit card policy revised

200 county employees lose spending privileges during financial overhaul

Audit finds `virtually no abuse'

Changes help purchases conform with regulations

November 16, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County officials have revoked the government credit cards of more than 200 employees, and they have lowered the credit limits of several others as part of an attempt to tighten spending controls.

The county's No. 2 official announced the new policy, which includes a zero-tolerance clause for abusers, this month, and the employees who review credit card expenses were retrained Thursday and Friday.

The moves follow reports of credit card abuse by Washington, D.C., city employees and a recent opinion from the county law office stating that some Visa spending did not meet standards in the county code.

"We have hopefully put together a system that ensures we can sleep well at night," Chief Administrative Officer Robert L. Walker said Friday.

Despite the need for change, Walker said he believes the county has had "virtually no abuse" of its Visa cards, and when there has been abuse, reviewers caught it. The four-step review process put into place this month is intended to formalize the process already occurring in most cases, he said.

County Auditor Teresa Sutherland said her office is in the process of auditing purchases made on county credit cards, and so far she has "been pleasantly surprised" by the lack of abuse.

In July, the D.C. City Council suspended the city's credit card purchasing program after an audit discovered questionable uses and overspending.

Last year, Anne Arundel employees spent $6.6 million with credit cards, making nearly 43,000 purchases, county officials said. Nearly one in four county employees - excluding court and school employees - had a credit card.

The number of employees holding a credit card has dropped over the past few months, from about 900 to 684. Walker said he expects it to go lower. "The more you have, the greater the chance they might be misused," he said.

Part-time and temporary employees will no longer be allowed to use credit cards, and credit card abusers will be fired, Walker said.

County officials also reduced to 15 from 36 the number of employees with single-transaction credit limits over $1,000.

The $1,000 figure is significant because county law requires employees to get three price quotes for purchases of more than $1,000 - unless it is an emergency or the county has a pre-existing contract for the purchase. Walker said a recent county law opinion, issued at the request of the auditor's office, stated that the old credit limits coupled with the county policy had the potential for creating violations of that law.

The opinion also stated that county law requires certification that funding is available for purchases of $500 or more. Credit card spending did not require such approval.

Walker described the troubles as a case of 21st-century business practices that needed to conform to county laws created decades ago.

Under the new policy, county officials will pre-certify fund availability. Sutherland, the auditor, said she will meet with county officials to determine if the new policy is adequate.

The new policy marks the second time in the past few weeks that county officials have acknowledged that procedures connected to their central services office require change. An audit last month found the county had lost track of many of its computers, largely because of poor inventory procedures.

Walker said new inventory policies may be released next month.

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