- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland has lost track of an unknown number of identification cards granting bearers unrestricted access to secure government buildings and courthouses across the state, officials said yesterday.

The ID cards, issued to state employees, lobbyists, contractors and others, have also been issued without appropriate efforts to verify the identities of the applicants, according to a report by the Office of Legislative Audits.

“As a result, there was a lack of assurance that all state ID cards issued were proper,” the audit found.

The audit also found that Department of General Services employees have been issuing the cards without review by a supervisor to make sure that applications were accompanied by proper documentation such as a driver’s license.

State officials have also failed to recover identification cards — allowing bearers access to government buildings without passing through metal detectors and security checkpoints — from employees who are no longer working for the state.

Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for the Department of General Services, which operates a police force that protects state buildings, could not say yesterday how many identification cards are unaccounted for. Auditors estimated that 70,000 identification cards had been produced since 2005.

Mr. Humphrey declined to discuss whether the cards might compromise public safety at government facilities.

“It’s long been our policy not to discuss security at state buildings,” he said.

Auditors, however, noted the security implications in their report.

“Control over these cards is significant for security purposes since cardholders are, in essence, allowed unrestricted access to state facilities,” the report said.

Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, who serves on the joint audit committee, which reviews reports submitted by the Office of Legislative Audits, said “sloppy” record keeping threatened to undercut state efforts to keep state buildings secure.

“To the extent you’ve got a secure state facility, to the extent you put up these barriers to make sure these people get these [ID cards], I think state workers deserve to know they are in a secure area,” said Mr. Brinkley, Frederick Republican.

Auditors also expressed concern that the identification cards could be costing taxpayer money, since the cards can be used in some cases to obtain free public transportation. The audit estimated that free trips using state ID cards cost about $2.3 million annually, but did not speculate on how much the unauthorized cards accounted for.

The state retooled its identification system in 2005 after an audit the year before turned up many of the same deficiencies. In 2003, Department of General Services police conducted a criminal investigation into the ID-card process.

“The August 2003 investigation documented one employee’s admission to a theft of cash receipts from the sale of replacement IDs and an allegation that another employee created and sold about 100 fictitious ID cards,” the 2004 audit found. “Because of inadequate records, the full extent of monies misappropriated and the number of improper IDs allegedly issued could not be readily determined.”

In a response to yesterday’s report — which also noted shortcomings in the agency’s procedures and controls over procurement, disbursements, cash receipts and property — Department of General Services Secretary Alvin C. Collins said that the agency has adopted new supervisory protocols, installed computer software and instituted quality-control audits.

“It is my expectation that our new leadership and management continues to improve our policies and operations,” he said. “DGS continues to be committed to a standard of improvement.”

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