The Office of Legislative Audits released its most recent audit of the State Police on Tuesday, March 26 [pdf here]. The good news: The whole thing is only 23 pages and has just five findings of note. That’s real progress in a department that used to see auditors uncover two or three times that many problems.
The mind-boggling news?
Among the findings auditors noted is that inventory control was lax. And the inventory total submitted to the Department of General Services literally did not include any motor vehicles. The department’s cars and other vehicles were worth an estimated $41 million as of June, 2009. The State Police also did not complete “annual physical inventories of sensitive equipment” that are not its vehicles.
As the report dryly states: “Similar conditions have been commented upon in our five preceding audit reports dating back to January 1998.”
Fortunately, the state police are on the case. In its response to the audit, the agency promises that, beginning this year, it “will maintain a control account for motor vehicles to provide a continuous summary of transactions and a total dollar value control over amounts in the detail records.” The state police also say they “will conduct and complete an annual physical inventory for all capital and sensitive items in all locations.”
Then again, that is what the police said last time, and the time before that, and . . .
What follows are the relevant audit findings from the previous decade’s audits (their page counts), and the state police response.
2010 (37 pages):
DSP did not establish adequate controls over its equipment. We again recommend that DSP comply with the requirements of the Inventory Control Manual.
Agency Response: DSP concurs with the recommendations. The Department has implemented procedures to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Inventory Control Manual with the respect to computer equipment and firearms.
2007 (57 pages):
Proper controls over DSP’s property had not been established.
DSP RESPONSE: The Department concurs with this finding. Control accounts have been set up for property, land and buildings, vehicles, guns as well as computers in the format in the Department of General Services’ Inventory Control Manual. A full physical inventory of all DSP equipment is currently being conducted. The DSP agrees to create and maintain independent control accounts over these areas as outlined by the DGS Inventory Control Manual. DSP agrees with the recommendations and will ensure that the requirements of the Inventory Control manual are followed.
2005 follow-up to 2004 findings (16 pages):
22. Proper controls over equipment and firearms were not established*
Current Status as Determined by DSP as of February 2005: Corrected
Current Status Based on Auditor’s Review as of March 2005: Minimal Improvement
2004 (60 pages):
Proper controls over DSP equipment and firearm inventories were not established.
RESPONSE: The Department concurs with this finding. Following revised guidelines issued by the Department of General Services, authorities and responsibilities for capital and sensitive property have been elevated to the Deputy Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer. The Department is creating independent control accounts for each category of property, consistent with the Inventory Control Manual.
Physical inventories are being conducted at regular intervals, reconciled and differences will be investigated and resolved. Measures will be put in place to ensure all acquisitions are properly recorded in the records.
The 2001 and 1998 audits were not available on the OLA’s web site, so ancient are they.
City Paper called the auditor, Thomas Barnickel, to ask two questions: How common is it for state agencies to not do inventory? And, Can anyone make the State Police do it?
To question 1: “It occasionally happens,” Barnickel says. “I think it might be a lower priority for many” agencies.
To Question 2: “Well. If they had five or more repeats there is a stipulation within statute to conduct ongoing reporting requirements. But since there are only three repeats in this report, that particular provision won’t be invoked.”
(A “repeat” in this context is a problem that is repeated from the last audit. So if an agency does not have more than three separate problems that continue over four years then it could, in theory, have three problems that never get fixed at all, no matter how many times auditors flag them). Barnickel says the Department of General Services has “oversight” of the inventory provision. But they have no gun. They have no badge…
We then called the State Police. “First of all, we think that this is a good audit,” spokesman Greg Shipley said, before going into detail about the “tsunami” of gun background checks that has hit the department since the massacre of school children in Newtown, CT last fall. “We have never seen—state police have been doing background checks for more than 40 years—we have never seen this level of firearms purchasing,” he said. The licensing division, working 21 hours a day, seven days a week, has about a six-week backlog to process, he says.
The workers need to run every name through 17 databases, entering each name repeatedly by hand.
This actually gives some insight into the inventory control matter. Counting stuff by hand is labor-intensive, and it’s not considered police work. Nor would it be considered a more pressing issue than checking gun buyers or, say, making sure commercial trucks are safe. The auditors found no indication that stuff had gone missing, only that the procedures for tracking and counting the stuff had not been followed to the letter.
Asked about the audit’s finding, Shipley sighed. “The…” he began, and then sighed again. “You know I need a few minutes,” Shipley said, to review the audit and the past audits. He promised to call back soon.
–And he did, the next day, saying heads have already rolled. “I did find out we did have an employee who was terminated in 2007,” Shipley says. “And in 2011 we had another employee who was relieved of his duties, due to neglect of duties.”
The department hired a new property officer last October, filling a vacancy that had been open for 11 months, Shipley says. Two new auditors were added also, and the department has implemented MSP Stat—similar to the Baltimore Police’s CompStat –to hold people accountable monthly.
“It’s embarrassing for a department as good as we are in law enforcement services…to have a logistical book keeping kind of error that keeps popping up in our history,” Shipley says. “We believe that we are doing what we need to do to fix this. Our goal is that this will not be on the next audit in three years.”