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Inventory woes

We often misplace our keys, and last year we left a Kindle in the seat pocket of an airplane.

So, we understand that it can be tricky to keep track of possessions. Even so, we are repeatedly struck by the huge difficulty state and local governments have with maintaining an accurate inventory and solid knowledge of the whereabouts of their various assets.

The latest example comes from Philadelphia. This month, Controller Alan Butkovitz took a look at the city’s inventory of personal property, delving specifically into how effective city departments were in tracking computer and high-tech equipment.

As it turned out, less than half of the 350 items sampled by the controller’s office could be located in the city department that was specified in the citywide inventory. Missing items included a $16,600 GPS system from the Office of Innovation and Technology, two thermal imaging cameras from the fire department (with a combined value of about $15,000) and a $12,300 generator from fleet management.

The list of missing items also included 48 desktop computers, and 11 portable computers. According to the audit, “The Water Department was missing a pneumatic jackhammer, a hand-held meter, two water pumps, and a paving breaker. The Police Department could only locate one of thirteen portable radios, the Health Department was missing an x-ray film processor, the Streets Department could not locate a paving breaker . . . the Parks and Recreation Department could not find a pool vacuum or a commercial lawn mower.”

While there are detailed processes in Philadelphia for tracking equipment, many departments have been lax about following them. The result? “Departments’ ability to determine the need to acquire computer and other high-tech equipment may be impaired, departments cannot provide assurance that equipment is protected from loss or being used only as authorized, and valuable equipment could be easily misappropriated.”

As noted above, Philadelphia is far from alone in having problems with maintaining accurate inventories or locating missing assets. We wrote a column about this topic in a Governing column three years ago, called “How Does a City Lose a Backhoe?”

[Note: We also did a Q&A column with City Controller Butkovitz in Governing in January, 2016.]


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