(The Center Square) – Louisiana state employees charged $863 million to Purchase and Travel Card programs over a five-year period that included $147 million in 2020, a year marked by COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
The Louisiana legislative auditor published a review of the expense card programs, saying an audit was necessary “because the obligations resulting from these transactions are direct liabilities of the state.”
The programs are monitored by the Office of State Travel (OST), which is part of the Division of Administration. They allow state workers to use taxpayer-funded credit cards to make purchases on behalf of their government employers, which includes state agencies, boards, commissions and universities.
Auditors found the number of transactions made by state employees and the total dollar amount of the transactions increased from 2016-19 and only fell in 2020 because of COVID-19.
“Card usage increased from calendar years 2016 through 2019, with the number of card transactions increasing 17.4% – from 474,862 to 557,560 – and the amount of these transactions increasing 19.6% – from $161.3 million to $192.9 million,” the report said.
Dozens of state entities were included in the analysis, but Louisiana State University stood out as the single-largest source of spending and use.
Auditors determined more than one-third of the total spent during the five-year period came from LSU and its various institutions, which accounted for $300.8 million, or 34.8% of the $863 million total.
It also was reported LSU is not subject to independent oversight from the Office of State Travel; rather, LSU monitors its own credit card expenses – an arrangement that does not exist for any other state entity.
“In November 2015, DOA (Division of Administration) and LSU entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to allow LSU to administer its card programs for all LSU institutions, including all audit and compliance functions,” the report said. “The MOU does not require that LSU send the results of its monitoring activities to OST.”
The report further identified several loopholes in OST’s monitoring activities. For example, the office conducted 285 compliance checks during the five-year audit period to ensure program integrity, but the process was limited.
“OST only reviews a random selection of 20 transactions from most of the data analytics reports, instead of focusing its reviews on those transactions that appear to be most risky,” auditors said.
Monitoring activities also were cited for failing to ensure proper spending codes were adequately used, thereby undermining certainty in what many purchases were for. In other instances, cards were used after government cardholders were “separated from employment," auditors said.
The report included that expense card rebates totaled $19.2 million during the audit period, which was enough to fully funded OST's budget.
State Travel Director Garret DeBate concurred in a response letter with all nine recommendations in the Legislative auditor’s report.
“OST is working to improve analytics and reporting functions to enhance monitoring of the Purchase and Travel Card Programs” DeBate said. “We appreciate the feedback provided by LLA to help OST improve these programs in the future.”