Air Force

July 12, 2012

Government purchase card: Unsung heroes in the supply chain

Mr. Brian Fritts
355th Contracting Squadron, Plans and Programs Flight

Do you ever wonder how you receive the supplies, services, training and equipment that you use on a daily basis? Most Airmen never give it much thought. They just know when they have a requirement, it gets ordered and delivered.

Normally, a warranted contracting officer is the only individual that has the authority to enter into a contract and obligate the government. However, many duly trained and appointed Airmen and Air Force civilians order commercial supplies and services over the phone or on-line and pay for the goods with a government purchase card. Throughout D-M, more than 400 uniformed and civilian personnel have purchase cards. In fiscal year 2011, D-M cardholders made more than 32,000 transactions valued at $26 million. Some of these purchases were for items such as office supplies, minor construction to include electrical work to services for commercial-off-the-shelf information technology training, and maintenance on low speed vehicles.

Purchase cards were initially developed by the federal government as a way to reduce the cost of buying goods and services and to reduce the footprint of warehousing. In the “old” days, a person was required to complete a purchase request which was submitted through base supply. The request was routed through many layers of approvals and eventually landed on the desk of a supply specialist if the items were available through supply. If not, it was then forwarded to the contracting squadron and was assigned to a contracting professional. At that time, the procurement portion of the process would begin. Obviously, this entire process was time consuming and expensive.

The GPC changed all of that. Now, the contracting squadron can delegate procurement authority, up to $25,000, to individuals in all units throughout the base. These individuals will receive the requirements from within their own organization, conduct market research, receive estimates from vendors, and then purchase the items in a similar fashion as they would in their personal life.

However, there are some restrictions on a cardholder’s purchasing ability. Spending is limited to $2,000 for construction, $2,500 for services, and $3,000 for commodities. The limit can be increased to $25,000 if they are making a purchase from pre-existing government contracts, for example, Air Force Advantage, blanket purchase agreements, and General Services Administration schedules.

In order to protect the integrity of the system, the 355th Contracting Squadron manages a robust surveillance program. The program has a multi-layer checks and balance system, to include the contracting office, card holder supervisors, and commanders. Additionally, the Department of Defense has implemented an automatic data mining system called Purchase Card On-Line System. The system flags purchases that are deemed “high risk” or out of the ordinary for immediate validation. Finally, the contracting squadron GPC team conducts annual surveillances of all GPC accounts to review cardholder files and individual purchase transactions.

Cardholders take on a lot of responsibility and are held accountable for all of the purchases they make, which means they are subject to adverse disciplinary action for misuse of the GPC. The GPC is not like a personal credit card where purchases can be made from any commercial vendor and any amount can be spent. Purchases are made in accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulations and Air Force instructions.

There is no rank requirement for cardholders. Cardholders range from Airmen, civilian, and officers, but not everyone can be a cardholder. Cardholders must have the highest ethical standards and professionalism. They must be selected and appointed by their commander, based on their ability to manage such responsibility.

As the end of the fiscal year approaches, our needs for faster procurements increase. This is when D-M cardholders are most needed. Historically, 35 percent of all purchase card transactions occur in the last two months of the fiscal year. While everyone is enjoying the last days of summer, contracting and government purchase cardholders are feverishly working to ensure that D-M has all of the required services and supplies to meet the mission of the Desert Lightning Team.




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(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Grant)

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