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South Carolina Veterans Affairs employees misused government purchasing cards, IG finds

Sign outside the Veterans Affairs headquarters building in Washington, D.C. (Washington Examiner)

Employees at a Veterans Affairs hospital in South Carolina split up purchases to dodge oversight, the department's watchdog has found.

After receiving a tip in April 2013, the VA's inspector general audited the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, S.C., to determine if its engineering service employees were splitting purchases on government purchase cards to avoid a $3,000 limit.

In total, $247,000 worth of purchases made between October 2011 and May 2013 were unauthorized, and $372,000 lacked documentation.

Of 139 sampled purchases, 40 were unauthorized. By splitting the transactions, the employees avoided requirements that high-dollar purchases be made through competitive bidding.

Thirty-five of the 40 purchases were split up, to not only avoid single purchase limits, but to avoid the competitive bidding requirement.

For example, a $5,483 order for lock-and-key sets was split into $2,800 for keys and $2,683 for locks from the same vendor in two separate orders made only seven minutes apart, according to the audit.

Thirty-three of the 139 transactions also lacked any documentation to prove the purchases were "reasonably priced, received, and for official use," the IG found.

VA reported making almost 6 million purchase card transactions worth $3.5 billion in 2012, according to the audit.

VA looks to fix the problems by September.