State of your money: Missing state property

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You paid for it. Now the question is: where is it? 13 Investigates has discovered Indiana state government and universities have thousands of items classified as lost or missing, with many more listed as stolen. Some of the missing property is items you probably never even realized the state bought in the first place.

If you happen to find a concert grand piano, track down an oxygen saturation monitor, or stumble across a robotic deer decoy, please contact the state of Indiana.

Those items – along with thousands of others – are listed as missing or stolen from state agencies and universities.

Indiana's master list of missing assets is a patchwork of agency data that shows confusion, inconsistency and poor communication in keeping track of individual items owned by the state.

It reflects millions of dollars in purchases, paid for by Hoosier taxpayers, that are unaccounted for. Many state agencies are unwilling or unable to explain what happened to the state property and why it is lost.

"We have missing items"

All state agencies and universities are required to keep track of their assets. Whether it's a truck owned by the Department of Transportation, a lawnmower owner by the Department of Administration, a computer desk owned by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, or a bass clarinet owned by the IU School of Music, each individual item gets a special tracking number so agencies can figure out what they've got. It also helps them figure out what's unexpectedly disappeared, and almost all state agencies have stuff that's unaccounted for.

Some of the items on the list are things you might expect to turn up missing, like a wrench, a ladder or a pencil sharpener.

Other's are more difficult to explain. Like a missing state building.

All of it was paid for by state taxpayers.

"I think it's important when you're using taxpayer money to purchase equipment that you keep track of it," said Phil Bloom, communications director for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which currently has 90 items on the state's missing and stolen assets list.

"It's not news to us that we have missing items. We keep looking to track it down."

Among the items on DNR's list: trucks, ATVs, boats, radios, computers, a robotic deer decoy that conservation officers use to catch poachers and a $95,000 storage building.

"How does something like that happen? How does a building disappear and get listed as missing?" 13 Investigates asked.

"It shows up on the inventory list as missing when, in actuality, it's still there," Bloom told Eyewitness News, adding that the building in question can be located at DNR's north region fish and wildlife headquarters in Peru. "The building hasn't moved. Our people can look out the window and see it. It's there and it's in service."

Full of mistakes

But DNR managers in Peru aren't so sure.

"I don't understand anything about a missing building. I have no explanation for that," said DNR north public lands supervisor Bill Bean. He showed WTHR two separate storage buildings outside his office, and he insists neither pole barn has an identification number that matches the building listed on the state's inventory of missing assets.

"I can't imagine it's one of those two buildings. If that [missing] building really does exist someplace, it's on another property. It's not here," Bean said. "It's probably some kind of error in data entry. It's not unusual for something like that happen."

Bloom agrees that mistakes are common when it comes to the state's missing assets inventory.

"The state switched computer systems a few years ago and that created many duplicate [asset] numbers that have not been reconciled. It's been several years, but I think it's still a work in progress and there are lot of mistakes – things that shouldn't be there," he said.

Other state agencies say their missing assets lists are full of mistakes, too.

The Department of Workforce Development, for example, shows more than 400 computers are missing . The agency insists most of them are not missing at all.

"We didn't lose the computers. Most of them were thrown away," said agency spokesman Joe Frank. "If it's depreciated past five years, it has no value and it's something we just throw away. But instead of putting it in [the assets management system] as disposed of, it's been coded as missing… We didn't realize we've been coding these incorrectly and we'll be looking at ways to change that moving forward."

While some items make it onto the state's missing assets list by mistake, thousands of other items are truly unaccounted for. State records show:

  • A 1926 antique concert grand piano is missing from the state's old Soldiers and Sailors Children's Home.
  • Several tractors owned by INDOT are missing after they were stolen from the side of state highways.
  • Purdue University and Indiana University list missing lab equipment (like microscopes and lasers) and medical equipment (like oxygen saturation monitors) that were purchased for millions of dollars.
  • Weed eaters, pool tables, video cameras, office furniture, hand tools and portable radios are common on the list, and they really add up.

The items listed as missing and stolen by state agencies and state universities cost taxpayers more than $26 million dollars.

Some of the items disappeared after they were too old or outdated to be of further use. Other items vanished very quickly.

INDOT, for example, bought $290 in camera equipment that was classified as missing in less than 6 months. The agency bought a $353 office chair that officially vanished after 4 months. And INDOT purchased a $248 power sweeper that made the state's missing assets list after just 51 days.

Transparency varies

Like many state agencies, INDOT is unwilling to meet with 13 Investigates to discuss its long list of missing and stolen property – a list that includes more than 1600 items that cost taxpayers more than $965,000.

"I'm respectfully declining your request for an on-camera interview at this time, but I would be happy to answer any questions you may have," wrote INDOT media relations coordinator Will Wingfield in mid-April. WTHR responded by requesting more information about items on INDOT's missing assets list. More than a month later, the agency has provided no response to that request.

DNR, however, was very open and transparent about its missing assets, providing WTHR with a detailed description and explanation for each item listed. Among the details provided by DNR:

  • A $28,000 Ford Expedition listed as stolen from the DNR was actually transferred to the Indiana National Guard.
  • The search for a $3,500 GPS unit used by the DNR's Oil and Gas Division has been suspended because the 2004-model unit is too outdated to be useful and has since been replaced with newer, better technology.
  • $1,000 in missing body armor listed in the state inventory was recently recovered by the DNR. It was turned in by retiring conservation officers but not properly recorded by the department's quartermaster until after the items appeared on the missing assets list.

"We have items that we have just come up with in the last few weeks that were found, and that's why the list is a good idea," Bloom said. "What's important for us to know is that [items] are missing and we can continue to look for them and, often times, we find them over time."

While missing and stolen items make up a very small fraction of the state's total assets, the DNR has several employees in its assets management division that help locate items identified as missing.

"It's tedious work. It's not real glamorous. But it's important work and they take great pride in it," he said.

The state auditor, who maintains the state's missing and stolen assets inventory list, declined to meet with WTHR for this story.

See the complete lists of MISSING AND STOLEN ASSETS

This information and data was provided by the Indiana State Auditor's office and state universities in response to WTHR requests submitted under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act.

Indiana State Government missing assets

Indiana University missing assets

Purdue University missing assets

Ball State University missing assets

Indiana State University missing assets

Vincennes University missing assets

Ivy Tech missing assets