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Golden Hammer: Interior Department spends $50K for computers to sit in storage

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2014

Like uncovering buried treasure, investigators have found a stash of computers purchased by the government but never used.

The machines, bought for more than $50,000 total between 2009 and 2011 by the Interior Department, have been sitting in a storage room unused thanks to bureaucratic bungles and poor oversight, according to a report by the department’s inspector general.

Out of 140 computers, only eight were ever given to federal employees. The rest have been sitting in the Interior’s Washington, D.C., headquarters in unopened boxes.

Although $50,000 is not a large amount in the realm of government waste, it’s an amount can start to add up across the board. Similar problems — equipment being bought and then never used — have been reported at several other federal agencies.

That’s why the federal government’s equipment purchases win this week’s Golden Hammer, a distinction awarded by The Washington Times to examples of fiscal waste, fraud and abuse.

The computers were purchased by Interior’s Office of the Solicitor, but a former employee told investigators they weren’t distributed because the office “did not have enough knowledgeable IT staff to cover the additional work that would be required at that time.”

In addition, the computers had no storage capacity themselves but were designed to allow employees to work through ‘cloud computing’ by keeping data on an internal server. However, after buying the machines, officials discovered they didn’t have adequate space on their computer servers to allow use of the new equipment.

The inspector-general’s office said Interior officials never performed a full inventory of the computers, and didn’t add identification tags to the boxes until prompted to do so by inspectors two years ago.

Now, the inspector general said that 11 of the computers are missing, and that no one at the Interior Department knows where they went or that they are even gone.

Officials at the Interior Department could not be reached for comment.

Similar problems hit the Homeland Security Department when it was revealed last year that the agency had purchased 8,000 pieces of radio equipment valued at $28 million because Border Patrol agents faced “critical equipment shortages.”

Yet the equipment remained in storage — some of it for as long as two years — before finally being distributed to law enforcement agents.

“DHS risks wasting taxpayer funds on equipment purchases and radio system investments that are not needed, sustainable, supportable or affordable,” said the agency’s inspector general.

Likewise, the Defense Department’s inspector general found that two-thirds of the 774 non-combat vehicles owned by four Pentagon offices were barely being used, with some being driven less than 1,000 miles a year.

The watchdog labeled the idle vehicles “a waste of DOD funds” and said that cutting the unneeded transportation could save the agency $7 million over the next six years.

And earlier this month, The Washington Times reported that the Environmental Protection Agency was storing roughly 2 million unneeded publications, including pamphlets, technical manuals and marketing items in a large warehouse. Preserving the unused documents and paying for the warehouse was costing taxpayers $1.5 million annually, the EPA’s inspector general said.

EPA warehouses were already under investigation when investigators found a site in Maryland filled with unused furniture and six-year old appliances in their original, unused boxes.

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