A bill sponsored by Senator Dwayne DeGraff that would help curtail the use of credit cards by government departments and agencies was among a number of others held in committee during a hearing on Wednesday.
Bill No. 33-0069 would permit only the governor to approve credit cards to persons serving at various government arms. It would also require a credit check be performed on the individual who the card would be issued to, and any purchases made with the card would not exceed $5,000, according to the measure, seen here.
The bill was introduced on the heels of an Office of the Inspector General audit that laid bare out-of-control credit card use by multiple government departments and agencies.
In the audit’s executive summary, the O.I.G. found that:
- There were no uniform regulations governing the use of credit cards and lines of credit.
- There were no internal controls to govern the use and accountability of credit transactions.
- As much as $1.1 million in credit transactions were not protected from fraud, waste and abuse.
- Credit purchases were made without first obtaining approved purchases orders.
- Travel expenses were incurred without authorization.
- At least $199,199 in purchases was made that did not conform to procurement regulations.
- At least $17,295 in travel expenses did not conform to travel regulation.
- Three agencies used credit card accounts for purchases inconsistent with applicable laws, policies and procedures, and best practices.
- Of $396,556 in charges reviewed, $31,867 was questioned.
- Credit cards charges without supporting documentation totaled $17,428.
- Personal charges totaled $10,642.
- Travel charges that were claimed more than once totaled $3,797.
- Credit card payments were not processed timely, resulting in finance charges and late fees.
- $881,167 in credit card charges were paid late, resulting in $23,288 in finance charges and late fees.
But on Wednesday, the measure was opposed by Property and Procurement Commissioner Anthony Thomas and Office of Management and Budget Director Jenifer O’Neal.
Mr. Thomas contended that the Dept. of Finance should be responsible for the regulation of credit cards; not P&P. “Pursuant to Title 3, Chapter 11, Section 177 of the Virgin Islands code, the Department of Finance is responsible for public funds. Credit Cards are a method of payment and therefore, that function rests squarely with the Department of Finance. The Office of Management and Budget’s role with respect to the budgeting and allotting funds cannot be understated, however, that role does not include actual methods of payment,” Mr. Thomas said.
He also said Property and Procurement does not support the measure because “the executive branch can achieve the same objectives without an additional piece of legislation.”
Ms. O’Neal, however, said P&P and D.O.F. are the departments responsible for administering credit card use. “The Inspector General accurately identified the Department of Finance and the Department of Property & Procurement as the agencies tasked with administering the functions that are attributed to OMB by Bill No. 33-0069,” Ms. O’Neal said.
And she did not support the measure either. Instead, she suggested that the authority should remain with D.O.F. and P&P with a caveat: that training opportunities be provided to executive branch departments and agencies.
The bill was held in committee along with a number of others, including bills to help VI National Guard service members. (The VING measures were held because leadership failed to show up to the hearing.)
“I am very surprised that the leaders of the National Guard are not here. We have several bills on the agenda that addresses some of the challenges they are facing. However, there are difficulties in getting the National Guard to attend the meetings,” said Senator Kurt Vialet, chairman of the Committee on Finance.
As a result, senators voted to remove from the agenda until the call of the chair Bill No. 33-0034 -An Act amending Virgin Islands Code relating to benefits and insurance coverage for officers and members of the VI National Guard to provide for pay comparable to those serving in the armed forces of the United States, and to ensure that the territorial active-duty members have insurance to cover any illness or injury sustained while on active duty not covered by other health insurance coverage.
Lawmakers also held Bill No. 33-0007. The measure seeks to increase the retirement pension from $100 to $200 for members of the VI National Guard. “The measure is specifically for part-time soldiers who served for 20 years in the reserves. It is a small supplemental income for soldiers ages 55-60 until they are eligible to collect a pension,” said Mr. DeGraff, the bill’s sponsor. However, due to the absence of the leadership of the V.I. National Guard and the inability to identify a funding source for the increase, the bill was held in committee. According to Mr. Vialet, funds are not available in the FY 2020 budget for the VING increase.
Also held was Bill No. 33-0042- An Act amending Virgin Islands Code providing that $10 of each operator’s license renewal fee be remitted to the Government Employees’ Retirement System, and providing that GERS must use the funds toward the reduction of its unfunded liability.
Bureau of Motor Vehicles Director Barbara Jackson-McIntosh was not in support of the measure, pointing to the myriad of needs at BMV that must be addressed. Mr. Vialet concurred: “The intent of the bill is good. However, the FY 2020 budget was passed and legislation that alters the budget can result in unfunded mandates.”