Charge Cards: Coming Soon to a Lab Near You?

The NIH procurement process is finally gearing up to enter the age of plastic - a move that could make it much easier and faster for intramural researchers to get the reagents and equipment they need. The Office of Acquisitions Management and the Office of Financial Management are working on plans for a pilot procurement project that would allow scientists to use charge cards to purchase up to $10,000 in merchandise per month, with an annual limit of $20,000 (unless the researcher is certified as a procurement officer). As planned, there would be a price cap of $2,500 per item.

The initial experiment, scheduled to begin this spring, is expected to be limited to 15 cardholders at NCHGR and 15 at NCI, Associate Director for Administration Leamon Lee says. The charge cards, to be issued by Rocky Mountain BankCard System, would be similar to the familiar American Express cards, requiring balances to be paid in full at the end of each billing period. At the end of each month, researchers would receive a statement to review and would be responsible for confirming that they'd received all the merchandise for which they'd been billed.

Before placing an order via charge card, researchers are expected to check to see whether the item is available at the NIH warehouse or stores, or through Blanket Purchase Agreement vendors. If the item is not available from those sources, researchers can go ahead and place an order with the vendor of their own choosing, Lee says.

Ultimately, the Intramural Research Program hopes to completely computerize the system and extend it to all NIH labs, a process that Lee hopes to see accomplished by the end of this fiscal year. Similar charge-card systems are already in place at other federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Social Security Administration.

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