Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency have been shopping, dining and hitting the gym on the taxpayers’ dime.
A new Inspector General report found that some employees at the EPA have used their agency charge cards to buy personal items that the auditor deemed “inappropriate,” including gym memberships for themselves and their family members, lavish dinners and DVDs. A sample of charges totaling $152,600 in 2012 showed that half of that, or about $79,300, were “prohibited, improper and erroneous,” the auditor said.
Employees spent about $29 million on EPA charge cards in fiscal year 2012, so it’s possible that half of that is also “misspent.” Once again, the issue sheds light on lax oversight at the agency.
“This indicates an ongoing risk,” the auditor said. “Improved purchase-card oversight could save the government money, which would be especially helpful in the EPA’s current budget environment.”
The auditor said that the government issues employees charge cards to bypass the complicated procurement process for small purchases. The card program was created over 30 years ago to “streamline the federal acquisition processes by providing a low-cost, efficient vehicle for obtaining goods and services directly from vendors,” the IG report said. Yet a spate of inspector general reports have highlighted routine abuse within the purchase card program for years.
Last summer, employees at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) reportedly used their federal purchase cards to buy big-ticket items such as home theater systems and BMWs, as well as smaller routine purchases such as grocery-store items.
In another instance a few years ago, a handful of Postal Service officials used their federal charge cards to buy Apple computers and anonymous items at “adult entertainment stores,” Talking Points Memo reported.
The ongoing abuse of federal charge cards prompted Congress to pass a bill in 2012 requiring agencies to periodically review their purchase-card programs in order to curb illegal and improper payments. And under new guidelines by the Office of Management and Budget, federal workers who are caught using their charge cards improperly could face dismissal.
Still, the abuse has continued at agencies like the EPA. The auditor found that despite the new law, the agency failed to conduct a review of employee transactions.
“Since the biennial review process was not followed, corrective actions and improved internal controls did not occur and weaknesses continued from 2008 onward,” the IG report said.
The lack of oversight within the EPA is nothing new. Just last fall, the agency’s top-paid executive, John Beale, was charged with defrauding the government out of nearly $1 million by pretending to be a CIA agent as an excuse to miss work for months at a time. He got away with his elaborate rouse for nearly a decade before anyone noticed.
The EPA also has struggled to maintain proper oversight over its contractors. Last year, an IG report found that agency contractors were using a federally owned building as their personal gym and hangout.
In both reports, the IG suggested that the agency implement a better strategy to increase oversight by developing reporting procedures and fulfilling periodical reviews of charge cards.
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