The Government Purchase Card Program (or how to stay out of Headline News)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- The government purchase card program is a commander’s tool for units to acquire mission essential goods and services. The rules are really quite simple when making purchases: document the rationale, show accountability and follow the monetary thresholds assigned. Then ask yourself, is this mission essential?

What is mission essential? What is a necessary expense? Those are great questions for the approving official and cardholder to discuss and answer. Appropriated funding is used for the GPC program. When we spend these funds, we are cautioned because they are U.S. taxpayer dollars. We have all seen numerous news reports of fraud, waste and abuse by government officials using tax dollars on wasteful purchases, such as lavish gifts, travel, gambling, or the infamous $500 hammer!

As the organization program coordinator for the base, I inspect every GPC transaction annually. There have been times when mistakes and oversights have been made, such as the purchase of “restaurant gift cards.” While the intention was certainly good and for a beneficial purpose, it is not legal. Gifts cannot be purchased with the GPC. Another example of what not to do is “splitting requirements.” The GPC dollar thresholds are designed and in place to ensure we properly use this tool while keeping competition alive and well for benefit to all. Under no circumstance should you purchase $3,500 worth of widgets today then go back tomorrow and duplicate the order. If you do, you have broken the law! Did you know intentional misuse of the GPC is considered an attempt to commit fraud? This is not something we have experienced here based upon the phenomenal caliber of the GPC team at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

As a rule of thumb, when I am asked whether or not an item can be purchased, I normally respond by saying “is it mission essential?” If that cannot be confirmed or supported by an Air Force Instruction or regulation, then the decision rests with the necessary expense rule. Basically, it is an unwritten rule where interested parties make a rational determination of whether or not the item in question can legally be purchased using appropriated funds. While the checks and balances within the GPC program are strong, there are always questionable and grey areas where we need to think outside of the box so we can proceed within the rule of the law. So, before making that purchase; be confident, document, show accountability, and follow the rules. If there are any questions, the 319th CONF is here to provide the answers.