A recent news story in the Washington Post has brought to light the use of government credit cards to make purchases at Starbucks. Sometimes federal employees are issued purchase cards by the government, with which they can make “micro-purchases” totaling up to $3,000. These small purchases do not have to be disclosed to the public.
The purpose of these cards is to streamline the process of purchasing office supplies and other important but inexpensive items, saving time and money. However, some misuse of the cards has been reported, and in this particular case the amount of money spent at Starbucks raises serious questions.
Employees of the Department of Homeland Security who were issued these purchase cards were discovered to have put $30,000 worth of Starbucks purchases on the cards. $12,000 worth of purchases was catalogued at one Starbucks in California, and many of the individual purchases were for less than the $3,000 micro-purchase limit, which would have allowed the spenders to avoid public disclosure. This process also saved the DHS a lot of time, which would have otherwise been spent going through other channels to buy the coffee in bulk.
DHS officials have claimed the purchases were to stock a Coast Guard ship with coffee, which certainly accounts for the amount of coffee purchased. However, the choice of DHS employees to buy the coffee via micro-purchases suggests a lapse in judgment. If the coffee had been purchased in bulk via a competitive bidding process, then it may have saved the DHS a great deal of money. While these credit cards may be a good tool for government employees, this type of decision-making leads to questions about how the cards system might be improved.