The Indian Health Service
lost at least $15.8 million in property, including costly vehicles and computers, obstructed government investigators and even fabricated documents when asked about the losses, according to a scathing report released on Monday.
The Government Accountability Office
said top IHS officials knew about the agency's problems as far back as 1992 yet did nothing to correct them. Employees who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment have never been punished, the report stated.
"We analyzed IHS reports from fiscal year 2004 through fiscal year 2007 and identified over 5,000 lost or stolen property items, worth approximately $15.8 million," according to the GAO. "These items included all-terrain vehicles, tractors, and pickup trucks worth around $6 million; and 'Jaws of Life' equipment worth over $20,000."
The GAO said the problem is probably much worse than reported. IHS has failed to keep track of millions of dollars in property at its headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, and at offices throughout Indian Country, according to the report.
"IHS officials attempted to obstruct our investigation by making misrepresentations and fabricating documents to conceal this lost or stolen property," the report said.
Beyond the lost or stolen property, IHS wasted millions on equipment that employees don't even use, investigators said. The GAO found 25 brand new computers worth $25,000 that were "collecting dust in a store room" in Rockville.
As recently as the summer of 2007, IHS bought 134 computers and monitors for a total of $161,700 -- yet most of them were just "extras" lying around in Rockville. One employee in New Mexico had an unwrapped $1,700 monitor sitting on her desk and didn't know why it was given to her.
The excess equipment even led some IHS employees in Nevada to hold their own "garage sale," the GAO said. They sold 17 computers and other equipment worth $16,600 between June and July 2005 and, to date, have not been held responsible, according to the report.
News of the report drew an angry response from Sen. Byron Dorgan
(D-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
. He has been critical of the way IHS uses its limited federal funds.
"It's disgusting what's happening at the Indian Health Service," Dorgan said. "We can't continue to allow this. We have people dying because they can't get health care and then we get a report like this."
The committee plans to hold a hearing next week to address the report.
IHS Mismanagement Led to Millions of Dollars in Lost or Stolen Property