Limit p-card use, ensure transparency

 
Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 8/5/2011 4:46 AM

It's much easier to hand a clerk your debit card than it is to hand over money. It's one reason casinos have you play with chips instead of cash.

So it follows that it's even easier to hand a clerk a debit card when you won't ever have to cover the tab. That's just human nature.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Welcome to the world of procurement cards. A p-card is a government-issued debit card used to make everyday purchases necessary to the function of said government.

After hearing concerns from some Grayslake Elementary District 46 school board members about some of its district's purchases, the Daily Herald and the Better Government Association examined 3,000 pages of p-card documents.

The resulting report -- a joint effort of the Daily Herald and the BGA that ran in Monday's paper -- found many purchases with justifications that would make any CFO's blood boil.

Among them, a $130 "staff party" at a brewery, $233 for "lunch" at an Italian restaurant, $665 for "Donuts for Apple Week," $394 for "staff gifts/teacher appreciation," $442 for a "staff luncheon" and $186 for a "cookout."

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On their face, many of these purchases sound questionable. But district officials, when pressed, had good reasons for the majority of them and determined whether the district ended up covering the expense or whether it was reimbursed.

In two years the district has used p-cards to buy more than $800,000 in goods and services. But without a strong policy to monitor their use, district officials really can't know whether that was money well spent. More importantly, neither can those who pay property taxes to District 46.

We feel strongly that if a booster club or group of employees intends to reimburse the district for a purchase made with a p-card, the p-card never should have been used in the first place.

And we agree with the BGA's manifold approach to policing their use.

The BGA recommends that governments:

• Develop a comprehensive written policy outlining what's allowed, what's not and who is allowed to use a p-card.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Detail an oversight and disciplinary plan to handle misuse.

• Limit p-card use to necessary government expenses under a certain dollar amount.

• Train p-card users in the rules rather than just have them sign off on a policy.

• Create a mandatory review by a card holder's superior for all purchases to ensure invoices are adequately itemized; purchases are for a legitimate government need; transactions aren't split into separate bills to avoid maximums or avoid competitive bidding; cards aren't used for upgrades or other extravagances; purchases are actually received by the public body; and all discrepancies are dealt with in short order.

Our local governments owe us that peace of mind.