You bought it, they lost/stole it; $745k in state property unaccounted for in 2017


Alabama’s government is not keeping good track of the various items state agencies have purchased using hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

According to Alabama’s 2017 Annual Loss Report state agencies were unable to account for a whopping $745,759.50 last year.

Compiled by State Auditor Jim Zeigler — whose office is tasked with providing accountability to the taxpayers of Alabama by maintaining accurate records of all personal property valued at $500 and above by conducting  property and equipment audits for agencies statewide — the report reveals 282 items were lost in 2017 alone.

That said, all property shown as lost on the report may not be due to neglect. According to the auditor’s office, property reported lost includes property lost, property destroyed by natural causes (such as fire) and property stolen that has been reported to the local law enforcement authorities.

Legally, it is not the responsibility of the auditor to locate lost property and equipment of state agencies, but to report it to the proper authorities including the Governor, Attorney General, Legislature, Agency Directors and to provide the information to members of the media and the general public.

Biggest losers

  1. Topping the list of agencies that lost the most last year was overwhelmingly the Alabama Law Enforcement Association (ALEA), which lost a total of $148,864.66 including two fingerprint capture stations that cost taxpayers $21,600 a piece.
  2. Alabama’s Department of Conservation is certainly not conserving funds. The department lost 15 items years totaling $75,565.55. The reason for the inflated number? Two vehicles were totaled, which cost the agency $49,387.11.
  3. The Department of Conservation-Parks was right behind it’s parent agency with even more items lost — 47, worth $56,251.26. Among their lost items was $4,768 worth of clothes that were destroyed when a park employee “accidentally disposed” of an inoperable washing machine and dryer. They also lost another $9,835.94 worth of computers.

The auditor’s office believes these agencies, and others where they found losses, are not being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

“State Agencies are not being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Zeigler told Alabama Today “While overall losses of state property of one percent are below the national average of about 1.5 percent, the list of losses of each agency appears to include avoidable losses. Some of the things lost would almost sound funny if this were not our tax dollars — a golf car, a truck, 140 tasers.

Best stewards of taxpayer dollars

  1. Of the agencies which lost items in 2017, overwhelmingly the Examiners of Public Accounts lost the least. They lost a 500GB hard drive worth $53.96.
  2. The Office of Voter Registration was unable to locate an IBM monitor during the audit, which cost the agency $229.40.

Beyond all control

As the auditor’s office pointed out, some losses were beyond the control of the given agencies. For example the ABC Board lost 13 items totaling $17,252.70 due to a tornado. While other agencies lost some items due to fires.

Holding agencies accountable

According to Zeigler, all his office can do is report the loss.

“​Once my auditors complete an audit that shows losses, I lose jurisdiction. I am required to turn the audit report over to the Alabama Attorney General​,” Zeigler explained. “​The enforcement of the audit cannot be done by the auditor’s office but must depend on the AG. I am sad to report that during the two years I served with former Attorney General Luther Strange, not one piece of missing property was ever recompsensed by the AG. Not one person was ever held accountable.​”

Solutions for the future

Zeigler is working on a bill that will transfer authority to enforce state audits from the AG to the State Auditor​, to avoid similar situations in the future. He says that’s how it is done in Mississippi​ where their state auditor is legally allowed to take legal action to enforce his own audits.

​Zeigler says his office is now installing a high-tech audit system ​called Radio Frequency Identification​ (RFID) which will allow for an easier auditing process in the future.

“​​It will allow my auditors to do the audits more quickly and more often​ It will also allow them to actually find the missing item using a chip embedded in each item​,” said Zeigler. “It will take us another year and a half to have RFID operative. Our goal is to lower losses to as close to absolute zero as humanly possible.

 2017 agency loss overview

Agency Quantity Acquisition Cost Depreciated Value
Alabama Law Enforcement Agency 21 $148,864.66 $22,766.64
Department of Conservation 15 $75,565.55 $34,800.99
Department of Conservation-Parks 47 $56,251.26 $7,998.41
Department of Transportation-State General 23 $53,445.30 $24,707.93
Insurance Department 3 $47,564.00 $22,378.00
Office of Prosecution Services 4 $43,902.00 $4,521.90
Department of Education 26 $33,913.79 $4,904.08
State Board for General Contractor 1 $30,837.20 $24,669.76
Historical Commission 3 $27,992.00 $2,851.70
Board of Pardons and Paroles 31 $23,927.74 $2,893.83
Alabama Forestry Commission 6 $23,717.03 $19,966.30
Department of Corrections 5 $23,339.09 $2,578.72
Alabama Onsite Wastewater Board 1 $23,055.00 $18,444.00
Department of Transportation-State Truck 1 $22,618.00 $13,570.80
HAVA/New oter Registration 12 $17,871.22 $1,787.12
ABC Board 13 $17,252.70 $10,142.99
Alabama Historic Ironworks Commission 15 $14,763.65 $1,476.37
Alabama Space & Rocket Center 9 $11,444.13 $2,046.91
Department of Transportation-Highway Dept 14 $11,129.45 $5,180.69
Finance Telecommunications Inventory 5 $5,846.73 $1,230.40
School of Fine Arts 3 $5,277.00 $906.70
Department of Revenue 4 $4,345.24 $3,431.32
Alabama State Port Authority 3 $4,312.39 $924.57
Department of Forensic Sciences 3 $3,856.50 $594.40
Agriculture & Industries 2 $3,489.62 $2,583.52
Youth Services 2 $2,810.60 $427.56
Alabama Dept. of Environmental Management 1 $1,914.79 $1,340.35
Banking Department 1 $1,758.00 $1,054.80
Department of Human Resources 2 $1,604.00 $1,144.10
Alabama Tourism Department 2 $1,559.95 $950.69
Board of Medical Examiners 1 $787.55 $630.04
Medicaid Agency 1 $460.00 $0.10
Office of Voter Registration 1 $229.40 $22.94
Examiners of Public Accounts 1 $53.96 $37.77
 TOTALS 282 $745,759.50 $242,966.40