An audit released today showed three city departments could not immediately account for nearly $1 million in equipment bought with taxpayer dollars, and several items worth a combined total of about $250,000 have been sitting unused -- some for more than seven years.
"What we found is that people are not minding the store," City Controller Wendy Greuel said at a City Hall news conference. "We simply cannot afford to let taxpayer money be wasted by misplacing equipment or letting items sit unopened in storage.
"During these difficult economic times, it is easy to cut back on oversight, which make fraud and abuse more likely," she said. "However, it is more important than ever to ensure that every taxpayer dollar is spent and used effectively and efficiently."
Greuel's audit took inventory of 254 randomly selected items purchased for at least $5,000 in the Recreation and Parks Department, Information Technology Agency and Bureau of Sanitation.
The audit showed that 115 items were not where they should have been. While 56 items were eventually located, 59 items worth a combined total of $938,000 had not been found by the time the report was published.
Those items included two gas analyzers bought by the Bureau of Sanitation for $250,000, and a video recorder purchased by ITA for $60,000.
Sanitation Director Enrique Zaldivar said both gas analyzers were being used at a city laboratory. He said the audit missed them because the bureau used a different system to track its equipment purchases.
Greuel agreed that upgrading the city's system is necessary once the budget crisis is over.
"While the city has several automated systems to try and track purchased equipment, they don't always fit the departments' needs, and the result is that these items fall through the crack," she said.
The audit also found that ITA and the Parks and Recreation Department have 138 items still in warehouses or staging areas, including some that were bought more than seven years ago. Those items include several microwave ovens and television sets, and various computer equipment.
"It's not as if we lost this material," Parks and Recreation General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri told reporters. "We bought it in advance, we staged it, [and] most of that material is in the field right now."
He conceded, however, that his sprawling department needed to do a better job of tracking its equipment purchases.
"We have 10,000 employees. We have 417 parks, so we have to do a better job," Mukri said. "My commitment to the taxpayers is we will fix this. These aren't difficult fixes – it just takes some effort, takes some vigilance."
Greuel said the audit raised another "disturbing" concern: the city has no way of tracking equipment purchases worth less than $5,000.
"Our last major finding is that we are only able to track items that cost over $5,000 because the city does not have a consistent policy to track items that are mobile and highly susceptible to theft even if the cost is less than $5,000," she said. "There is no way of knowing how many additional items cannot be found or are sitting unopened in storage."
(KPCC's Frank Stoltze contributed audio to this report.)