- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2013

The government might have just wasted tens of millions of dollars by spending it on money.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing gave a private contractor more than $80 million for public outreach about currency, but federal investigators said the oversight of the contract was so lax that officials largely let the contractor spend money however it saw fit.

Officials at the bureau routinely signed invoices without due diligence, ignored known problems and didn’t negotiate for the best prices, according to the findings of a report by the Treasury inspector general.

For risking taxpayer money with poor oversight, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing wins the Golden Hammer this week, a distinction given by The Washington Times to examples of fiscal waste and federal mismanagement.

The goal of the contract was to inform the public and business community about design changes and security features being added to U.S. currency to fight counterfeiting, and help people recognize the bills once they entered circulation.

But investigators said bureau never negotiated with Washington-based Burson-Marsteller, the public relations firm awarded the contract, to get the best price for some of its work, instead awarding whatever amount the private business proposed.

Plus, Bureau of Engraving and Printing officials rarely checked what the company was spending money on. No one made sure the receipts submitted were legitimate, nor did they check whether the amounts added up. Contracting officials at the bureau “expressed confusion as to their roles and responsibilities related to invoice approval.”

A representative for Burson-Marsteller said the firm is committed to not wasting taxpayer funds in its federal work.

“We take our responsibilities as a government contractor seriously,” he said. “We have procedures in place to ensure that we comply with government contracting regulations.”

Representatives for the bureau said they agree with the inspector general’s assessment. They called it “a frank picture of prior deficiencies” but said it doesn’t represent the changes the agency has made to address problems.

The agency’s contracting office was understaffed and suffered from high turnover, officials said.

“This led to a relatively inexperienced staff that was insufficiently trained for the level of responsibility that was given to them,” a representative for the agency said, adding that more hires and other changes have been made.

BEP’s responses show that a comprehensive effort has been and will continue to be made in order to address those challenges,” the agency said.

But investigators are concerned that other contracts face similar shortcomings and said the problems might need to be reported as “material weaknesses,” one of the highest levels the government uses to mark wrongdoings and waste.

Among those changes the bureau has undertaken is hiring a private contractor to evaluate the agency’s handling of contracts.

The money was awarded to Burson-Marsteller after the redesign of every major American currency note except for the $1 bill. There were two separate contracts, one for $55 million and another that cost $33 million.

The inspector general’s office said it is being forced to launch an investigation into the contractor’s accounting system because the Bureau of Engraving and Printing didn’t have any required documentation for the contract. Bureau officials couldn’t show justifications for the prices it was being charged, support for some of the invoices or even a copy of the original contract document.

Bureau officials seemed to imply that someone had walked out the door with the paperwork, telling investigators “the last employee known to have possession of the pre-award files was no longer working at BEP and the files were not found after the employee’s departure.”

There was so little information that the inspector general had to go to Burson-Marsteller directly to obtain copies of some documents. In fact, there was so little documentation, the inspector general said, it was not sure exactly how much of the money might or might not have been wasted.

The contract for public outreach and education about currency is no longer controlled by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. As of October 2011, it has been run by the Federal Reserve Board.

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