There appears to be a flourishing culture of financial misconduct at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This culture has been perpetuated by a lack of administrative oversight leading to millions of taxpayer dollars being wasted. At a time when D.C.’s fiscal climate is characterized by a national debt that is spiraling out of control, there is no excuse for any government organization to be lacking financial accountability.
A report released this month by the EPA Inspector General (IG) found EPA employees improperly used federal charge cards to purchase everything from gym memberships to gift cards. The report indicated over 90 percent of the sampled transactions were for prohibited, improper, or erroneous purchases, all paid for by American taxpayers. Ironically, Senate Democrats this week carried on an all-night filibuster in hopes of generating even more power and funding for the EPA.
In compiling the report, the IG’s office obtained a spreadsheet of 67,000 EPA transactions from Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, and randomly selected 69 transactions. They also selected 11 transactions that seemed inappropriate because of the merchant involved. For instance, some transactions were with merchants listed as dance halls, child care organizations, music venues and theatres. Of the 80 transactions sampled, 75 were for prohibited, improper, or erroneous purchases.
The IG’s report outlined nine specific internal control oversight issues, ranging from the approval of prohibited transactions to the outright failure to maintain transaction records. Some specific instances of misconduct were so egregious they are worth mentioning. In three instances, cardholders purchased gym memberships totaling $2,867. Two of those purchases were not even for EPA employees but for family members. According to the report, cardholders further violated EPA guidelines regarding inappropriate food purchases:
“Although light refreshments are defined as those that do not include portions of food typical of a meal, in one of our samples, light refreshments included all elements of a meal for an awards ceremony. Four different appetizers, chicken tenderloin, fresh fruit, pasta salad, large cookies, soft drinks and punch were purchased at a cost of $2,900. Meals are not an allowable expense for an awards recognition ceremony.”
The report also found the purchase of gift cards by EPA cardholders was a problem in seven transactions. For example, in one transaction 20 American Express gift cards were purchased totaling $1,588. Additionally, the report highlighted instances where EPA employees violated records keeping requirements: