Virginia state agencies are being told to no longer identify for the public which employees are incurring expenses on government credit cards, officials said.
The recommendation, coming from the state Department of Accounts at the request of a bank, appears to contradict the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
State Comptroller David Von Moll said the Department of Accounts started giving that advice to all state agencies in early 2020. He said that was in response to Bank of America, the state’s credit card vendor, when it recommended in 2019 to the department that agencies not give out the name of a state credit card holder to anyone.
“The first step to essentially committing identity fraud is to know the name of the card holder,” Von Moll said in an interview. “We have taken the position as a matter of internal control the names of the card holders should be withheld.”
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Megan Rhyne, executive director of the nonprofit Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said the department’s advice is wrong. The state's Freedom of Information Act says the public cannot be denied access to records of any government employee’s allowances or reimbursements for expenses.
Rhyne said she’s unaware of a time that someone committed identity theft simply by having the name of a state employee who uses a credit card. Seeing how particular workers spend money is important, she said.
“It does show us the actions of the individual who may be abusing the credit card system, and if it’s not done by name it means that that person avoids scrutiny and avoids accountability,” Rhyne said.
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William Turner, a former chairman of the Accomack County Board of Supervisors, had received previously public records so he could look for wasteful government spending.
But when Turner said he asked for credit card spending by a courts employee, the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia told him last month he could no longer get such records because of the new advice.
Instead, the executive secretary provided a list of monetary expenditures for the entire agency that lacked who spent the money or on what it was spent, according to the newspaper.
Alisa Padden, director of legislative and public relations in the Office of the Executive Secretary, said future requests for public records on credit card expenditures would provide information on how the money was spent, but not the list of names of cardholders.
Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares has concerns about the new guidance.
“As taxpayers, Virginia citizens deserve to know how their money is used. Removing the name of the cardholder on a state-issued credit card, as well as any description of the purchase, creates unnecessary secrecy between government officials and the public on how their tax dollars are being spent,” Miyares said in a written statement.