Millions of dollars in state-owned assets missing


by KELI RABON, KVUE Defenders

Posted on October 27, 2011 at 10:05 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 9:17 AM

Computers, treadmills, iPads and even guns. All things you paid for and the state can't seem to find.

The KVUE Defenders uncovered in the last year alone, state agencies have reported more than 3,500 items missing or stolen -- a grand total of more than $10 million. 

Every year, state agencies and universities file a report with the Texas Comptroller detailing all state-owned assets that are lost or stolen.

In the last four years, departments reported more than $80 million in missing and stolen equipment, electronics, and weapons.

It's a number that Peggy Venable with Americans for Prosperity, a taxpayer watchdog organization, says is unacceptable.

"I think taxpayers should be outraged at this," Venable said.

Outraged, by what's on the list from just this year:

  • 2,573 computers
  • 270 printers
  • 212 cameras
  • 23 guns
  • 4 ipads
  • 1 robot

Items that  Venable says most taxpayers would keep a close eye on.

"We're working hard to pay our taxes, and some government employees have little regard for the equipment that is being purchased with our tax dollars," Venable said.

The University of Texas leads every state department and university in the state of Texas, with $4.2 million in items missing or stolen. That's more than all other state universities combined.

Some of the items include two $16,000 treadmills, a $7,000 baseball field cover for Disch-Falk Field, and $500,000 piece of lab equipment called a vacuum spectrograph. 

"I don't even know what that is, but I would assume it's something that's not easily pocketed and walks out the door," Venable said.

Turns out, it didn't. UT Controller Fred Friederich says that vacuum spectrograph was on campus the whole time. 

"They were able to find it, after putting several hours of work into it since I got the list from you yesterday," Friedrich said.

Friedrich says like the spectrograph, not every item is really missing. They just can't all be easily accounted for. 

"At a point in time because of the value, usefulness, usually we just say 'Okay it's missing right now, we're going to move on, do the best we can, and if someone needs it later we'll go find it,'" Friedrich said.

Many of the missing items are so old that Friedrich says they aren't worth anything.

Of the $4.2 million in missing items, he says the depreciated value is only $40,000. Frederich says looking for worthless items would cost taxpayers more in the long run. 

"Our mission is not to find inventory items, but it is to keep track of them as best we can," Friedrich said. 

But Venable says every nickel and dime should be accounted for when you're dealing with taxpayer dollars.

"It seems very often government employees don't hold themselves to the same level of accountability as you would in the private sector or if you owned it personally. And that's really where we, as taxpayers, have a big problem with that," Venable said.

There is a bit of incentive to locate missing items. If an agency reports too many, its state funding can be cut.  That actually happened to UT last year, but the penalty was only $204.

There is also an additional $60 million in items that the state considers "pending," allowing agencies two years to determine if the items were lost, stolen, or still in the agency's possession.

Click here for a list of missing state assets from FY 2011.

Click here for a list of missing state assets from FY 2008-2010.

You can follow investigative reporter Keli Rabon on her Facebook page here.

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