EPA Staff Misreport Purchase Card Transactions, Watchdog Finds

By A. and I. Kruk / Shutterstock.com

Rank and file staffers at the Environmental Protection Agency are not properly documenting their use of purchase cards to acquire such items as computer keyboards, laboratory supplies and, in one case, a garage door opener, a watchdog found.

“Despite the EPA’s control efforts, oversight is weak,” EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr. wrote to EPA central administrators in report released on Monday. “The purchase card team… does not have enough staff to implement effective proactive and detective controls. Instances of cardholder noncompliance primarily resulted from ineffective training and/or a lack of monitoring and control activities.”

EPA was also faulted for lacking a specific policy to address the appropriate number of cardholders needed to make purchases in compliance with EPA policy and procedures.

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The IG auditors reviewed 75 transactions from November 2017 to June 2018 as required under the 2012 Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act. Some 1,145 agency staffers during fiscal 2017 reported 80,917 purchase card transactions totaling $41.2 million and 458 convenience check transactions totaling $241,078.

But each of 69 sampled purchase card transactions, and each of six purchases made using agency convenience checks, were found to be out of compliance with at least one of 11 criteria culled from procedural guidance issued internally or by the Office of Management and Budget.

For instance, one card holder “did not know that documenting a justification for not using mandatory sources is required.” Another “did not know that the vendor used a third-party payment processing service when the order was placed.” A third buying laboratory supplies did not realize the requirement and relevance of the EPA’s Agency-Wide Purchase Card Standard Operating Procedures Payment Net Purchase Card Automation Process.

The watchdog made 11 recommendations for greater controls and enhanced training to the agency’s Office of the Administrator, deputy administrator, and Office of Acquisition Management within EPA’s Office of Administration and Resources Management.

The EPA agreed to take corrective actions on all 11 and provided planned completion dates. Already, in January and April 2018, the agency issued “Flash Notices” to cardholders and approving officials to remind them that they are required to consider the available EPA-mandated, strategic-sourcing contracts and mandatory sources. EPA has also developed draft purchase card training slides to address issues identified in the audit.

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