Zurik: Millions in state property 'Lost and NOT Found'
But administration officials don't want to talk about this missing inventory. And it's a stack of records that most lawmakers haven't even seen.
“I hate hearing this through the media,” says Rep. John Schroder of Covington. “Somebody's got to look into this… That's ridiculous.”
The records show true government waste - possibly $16 million dollars in 2014 alone.
“They done ripped me off,” says one resident when we showed her the list.
“I think it's pathetic,” another taxpayer says.
“For some reason we're not even capable of policing ourselves,” Schroder remarks.
The state of Louisiana calls it an “unlocated” property list. It documents state property, bought with taxpayer money, that's gone missing.
The list has grown dramatically in recent years. In 2011, the state couldn't account for $4,898,943 in property. In 2012, that grew to $7,289,163, increased in 2013 to $8,834,751, then almost doubled last year to $16,380,578. Schroder says all areas of state government must be more accountable. “If we can't track our own equipment then we've just got serious problems,” he says. “And I think the people in charge need to be held accountable for it.”
The 2014 list includes nearly 4,500 lost or unaccounted-for computers. That represents a total cost to taxpayers of at least $7,194,718.
“We're going on our seventh year of budget cuts,” Schroder notes. “We shouldn't be wasting a dime at this stage. I mean, these department heads come sit in front of our appropriations committee and tell us they don't have a dime, you know, there's not a dime to spare. Well, evidently there is. When you lose this equipment, you've got to turn around and buy more equipment. So it's just extremely frustrating. It's down-right… it's really criminal.”
Last year the state lost at least 214 projectors, 200 printers and 79 Promethean electronic whiteboards. Those are whiteboards are pricey, too – those 79 cost taxpayers $309,753 when they were purchased.
“We need to start prosecuting some of these people. I'm sure some of this has legitimate reasons. But I promise you, some of this is stolen stuff, no question in my mind.”
According to state records, the New Orleans Arena can't locate two lounge chairs that cost a total of $6054.08.
“How does a lounge chair just disappear?” Schroder wonders.
The Northlake Support Center in Hammond can't find two sofas and a milk cooler. In May of 2012, Washington-St. Tammany Medical Center bought 19 iPod Touch digital devices - they're on the missing list. And Southern University in Baton Rouge can't locate three Brangus beef cattle.
“I mean, how do we just lose cattle?” Schroder asks.
Some of the missing property on this list is old. Other items likely are still in use but are not documented well by state agencies.
“It seems to me to be a simple procedure to have, that would document equipment the employees are using,” Schroder insists. “Do we have to pass a law to fix everything? I mean, c'mon.”
We tried to ask the state questions, and we scheduled an interview with Jan Cassidy with the Division of Administration. But about three hours before that interview, she canceled. We tried to reschedule; the state said no. They're unwilling to answer questions on camera about all of this missing property.
“This is $16 million of taxpayer money, thrown in the dirt,” says State Treasurer John Kennedy.
“LSU in Baton Rouge can't account for $3,631,072 of property. The treasurer says it's time to hold employees accountable.
“I'll tell you what happens in the real world,” Kennedy says, “you get fired.”
Kennedy says that's exactly what needs to happen at the Recovery School District. The RSD, by far, tops the list of agencies with missing inventory. In 2011, they had $670,560 of lost property. That has grown to $6,666,760 in missing property reported for 2014.
“Numbers ought to be going down,” Kennedy says. “They shouldn't be going up. What that tells me is that people are being very cavalier about this, like, ‘no big deal.'”
That's your money, funds that could be going instead to fixing roads, funding education or healthcare.
“There's a problem with people not treating government money like it's coming out of their own pocket,” Schroder says. “You know, if somehow we made people pull the money out their pocket, I believe you'd probably have them treating it a little differently.”
Over the past few years, the state has lost cows, recliners, sleeper sofas, mannequin training dolls, a Bolero tub lift, dental chairs and a French horn.
“All our money is just going down the drain,” says one taxpayer.
Another tells us, “Something's going on that doesn't smell good, just like the shrimp is rotten somewhere in Louisiana.”
While the Division of Administration declined our request for an on-camera interview, they did email the following statement and background information on the lost inventory:
Statement: The Recovery School District reported more than 28 percent of its movable property missing in its 2014 inventory. Because of the large volume of missing inventory, [the Louisiana Property Assistance Agency] disapproved the agency's property certification and completed an internal investigation on the losses. We have since reported our findings on the issue to the Attorney General and Legislative Auditor for further review.
- Each agency conducts an inventory once a year and reports findings to LPAA
- LPAA reviews the agency's report and makes a decision regarding the status of the inventory.
- LPAA provides a letter to the Legislative Auditor regarding each agencies inventory status
- LPAA requires agencies keep missing items on inventory for 3-years, to allow time to find the items. Many items are located throughout the process.
- After three years, if missing items are not found, the inventory is written off
- Each year LPAA audits 1/3 of the 337 state agencies for compliance with property rules and regulations.
- If an agency reports an unusual amount of missing inventory, LPAA further investigates.
- LPAA gathers data and reports the findings to the Commissioner of Administration. Depending on the findings, DOA may notify the Attorney General.
- After the results of this year's investigation, we notified the Attorney General of LPAA's findings regarding RSD's missing inventory.
Mobile users can find an interactive graphic for this story at this link.
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