U.S. federal employees are issued what’s known as purchase cards which allow them to charge up to $3,000 in “micropurchases” without having to disclose those purchases publicly. Think hair cuts, movie tickets, gym memberships and now, according to Scott MacFarlane of NBC-4 Washington, $30,000 worth of Starbucks coffee in fiscal year 2013.
MacFarlane discovered the expense through Freedom of Information Act requests – which revealed $12,000 worth of java being purchased at one Starbucks in Alameda, California, alone.
Anne Richards, assistant inspector general for audits at the Homeland Security Department’s Office of the Inspector General, said the California Starbucks purchases were to stock dining pantries on Coast Guard ships. She also said the purchase cards are intended to streamline purchasing for low-cost items, but acknowledged there has been instances of improper use:
“Every transaction has inherent risk — the risk of purchase card misuse is greater because of the number of cardholders and the low dollar, decentralized actions, which are subject to fewer reviews and controls,” she said. “However, this increased risk was purposely chosen to reap the benefits — less cost and quicker response — of the simplified procurement process.”
In 2008 it was revealed that such cardholders had used their purchase cards on internet dating sites, electronics, and expensive dinners. Congress passed a law in 2012 to implement stricter rules for the cards but so far it doesn’t seem to be helping.
There are currently 9,700 federal employees who carry a purchase card and government agencies spent overall $20 billion in fiscal 2014 on micropurchases that don’t require public disclosure.