Not long after learning about a new stream of federal funding, the Indian Health Service was chided by the Government Accountability Office last week for continuing to lose millions of dollars in lost and stolen property.
Land of the lost
GAO scolds IHS on $3.5 million in missing property
May had been a good month for this HHS agency, as it welcomed a new director, learned about a potential 13% boost to its budget for next year, and determined how it will allocate the $500 million it received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (June 1, p. 6). But June brought different news, as a new report from the GAO found that 1,400 itemsworth a total of about $3.5 millionwere lost or stolen from IHS facilities from October 2007 through January 2009. These losses are in addition to the 5,000 items worth about $15.8 million that were lost or stolen from IHS facilities for fiscal years 2004 through 2007 that the GAO revealed in a report a year ago this month.
In its current report, the GAO cited several examples of lost or stolen property, including a $37,000 laboratory analyzer at a Navajo healthcare facility; a defibrillator worth about $7,000 and more than $13,000 in desktop and laptop computers that were new in June 2007 at a Tucson, Ariz., location; and unused information technology equipment bought in 2007, including laptop and desktop computers, a television and an $11,000 server.
Aside from issuing a memorandum from the IHS director that restated and refined existing policies, IHS has taken little action to ensure that employees are aware of and complying with property policies, the GAO said in its 43-page report. One way to enforce policies involves holding individuals accountable; however, GAO found that the senior service executive in charge of the IHS property group and other areas was given a $13,000 bonus after GAOs report exposed mismanagement of property under the executives purview.
To improve this costly problem, the GAO said that IHS should fully implement the
10 recommendations it outlined last year, as well as six new suggestions. While IHS has made limited progress, it still has what the GAO referred to as a weak tone at top because the agencys senior leadership has failed to fully implement eight of the 10 recommendations it had made.
For example, IHS could improve in investigating circumstances surrounding missing or stolen property, rather than writing off losses without holding anyone accountable, the GAO said. It could also update IHS personal property management policies to reflect any policy changes that have occurred since the last update in 1992.
Thomas Sweeney, a spokesman for IHS, said the agency appreciates the GAOs recommendations and continues to work toward its goal of strengthening its property-management standards.
One way IHS has done this is by including property management as a performance measure for all senior managers, a change that began in fiscal 2009, which started in October 2008. Sweeney also said IHS was about halfway through implementing a property management information system, or PMIS, when the GAO conducted its first audit last year.
If you look back to the initial report in June 2008, they referred to lost or stolen jaws of life, Sweeney said. It was actually in use, he added. When our employees are doing work in the field, they obviously need equipment and they are not available
Another step IHS has taken to improve this problem is that all IHS personnel are now given receive receipts for any equipment that has been assigned to them, and every person will be held personally accountable for those items. Thats a standard above whats normal in government, Sweeney said. This was outside the GAO report, he added. That is taking place right now.
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