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Investigators looking at EPA purchasing cards and checks

By Phillip Swarts

Wednesday - 4/17/2013, 7:30pm  ET

If an Environmental Protection Agency workers went on a spending spree, investigators will find out soon.

Government inspectors are looking at the EPA's purchase card and convenience check programs to make sure agency workers have been making taxpayer funded purchases correctly and on things that are needed for the agency to conduct its business.  Investigators noted the review is not in response to any specific tips or concerns, but is a required routine check-up.

The EPA Office of Inspector General said it will evaluate whether the agency has controls to prevent "potentially illegal, improper and erroneous use of purchase cards."  Investigators said they also want to ensure the EPA is getting the best deals and lowest prices for the things it buys.

The purpose behind the cards and checks is to provide a convenient source of funds for agency-related purchases.  Most departments across government have a similar program.  A report by the Agriculture Department notes that the cards and checks "reduces administrative costs and allows agencies to procure supplies and services faster."

In October, Congress passed the "Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act of 2012," designed to cut down on waste and unnecessary federal purchases.  The law required regular review to make sure purchases were legal, needed and were getting the best price.  It also required greater record keeping, including "reconciling the charges appearing on each statement of account for that purchase card with receipts and other supporting documentation," the law said.

In 2009, the inspector general found the EPA had overpaid with purchase cards for emergency spending following Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.  The agency purchased equipment, but did not closely monitor the prices it was getting and how the cards were being used.  The overpayment was $2,000 - a relatively small amount as far as government waste goes.

"While EPA had controls to monitor equipment charges, it did not make full use of those controls," investigators said at the time.

Inspectors said they expect the review will be completed by June.