The Indian Health Service has lost at least $15.8 million worth of equipment and later falsified documents to cover up some of those losses, according to congressional investigators.
The 5,000 pieces of lost or stolen equipment included a computer that contained more than 800 Social Security numbers and sensitive health information. Also missing are about one-third of information technology itemsincluding computers, video projectors and digital camerasfrom the agency's headquarters in Rockville, Md.
The Government Accountability Office estimated losses between the 2004 and 2007 budget years in a report released this week. Investigators blamed mismanagement at the top of the embattled agency, which often runs out of money to provide adequate healthcare to the American Indians it serves.
In an official response to the report, HHS officials agreed with many of the investigators' recommendations to tighten property oversight and regulations. But the officials also disagreed with some of the allegations, saying there were inaccuracies in the investigators' descriptions of some cases.
The GAO said the agency, which is part of HHS, "made a concerted effort" to obstruct the investigators' work, including misrepresentations of data and fabricated documents.
Included in the missing items is a desktop computer that was stolen in April 2007 from an IHS hospital in New Mexico. The computer contained a database of names of 849 uranium miners, including their Social Security numbers and medical history.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said his panel has scheduled a hearing on the issue next week.