Lost and NOT Found: ‘Unlocated’ inventory list notes $23.6 million in lost state property

The property ranges from computers to furniture to vacuum cleaners.
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 10:36 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A list of “unlocated” items received through a public records request yielded dozens of pages, thousands of items, and millions of taxpayer dollars in movable property that has gone missing from various state universities and agencies.

The property includes everything from computer equipment, which makes up the bulk of the list, to diesel lifts, ATVs, cattle, vacuum cleaners, different types of furniture and medical equipment.

Totaled up, the cost out of your pocket? More than $23 million.

“It doesn’t inspire too much confidence in the system, for sure,” said State Representative Richard Nelson (R). “It’s just kind of something that taxpayers expect better.”

Like other lawmakers who spoke with FOX 8, Nelson was not aware the list existed until we brought it to him. He said he understands smaller items, like computers, going missing. But, he is concerned about the big ticket items.

Cameras and software went missing from Delgado Community College - $12,000.

A diesel lift went missing from Louisiana State University (LSU) - $41,000.

A Kubota ATV went missing from the University of New Orleans - $11,500.

“It’s pretty extensive,” Nelson said of the list. “I mean, there’s a whole lotta high dollar equipment on there.”

The list is created by the Louisiana Division of Administration, which collects and combines inventory from every individual school and state agency. Every entity is responsible for conducting its own inventory, which is where the missing items are noted.

“Is it an indication of missing items, or is it an indication of just not a great process by which we do the inventory?” asked State Senator Sharon Hewitt (R). “It’s a fair issue to raise. Again, the purpose is to make sure we keep tally of all state property and that it gets returned. There may be some agencies that stand out as having more of an inventory problem than others.”

Hewitt said every entity may conduct inventory differently. Some items may be thrown away, but it may not be notated in the system.

“Computers have a limited life, so what happens when a computer breaks and is no longer serviceable? What do we do with those computers? And are they on the list or no longer on the list? I have no idea,” Hewitt said.

She also pointed out that the original cost noted on the list is the purchase cost of the item. The depreciated cost is not noted, so $23.6 million is likely higher than the actual amount.

“This is not probably a high priority for many people, but again, it’s the principle of the thing,” said Joel Friedman, professor of law at Tulane University. “It’s not just like giving a gift to your children and saying, ‘Go ahead and spend it, I don’t care what you do with the money. I don’t care what you buy it for, and I don’t care what happens when you buy the thing.’ I don’t think that’s responsible, and I think the recipient agency should also be more responsible.”

LSU is by far the largest entity on the list and has the most items on the list. The list of missing LSU items totals over $7 million.

A university spokesperson said that in 2020 and 2021, LSU’s rates of unlocated movable items only amounted to 1.31% and 0.52% of the school’s total inventory. A spokesperson for the Division of Administration said the state considers anything under 3 percent to be an acceptable rate.

“These are considered extremely positive results by Louisiana Property Assistance Agency, and in the world of asset management in general,” said Ernie Ballard III, Media Relations Director for LSU.

Ballard added that the university has already located nearly 100 of the more than 2,500 items listed as missing on the inventory.

“We generally end up locating over half of what is originally reported missing,” he said.

Hewitt said she’s open to bringing in representatives from universities or state agencies not meeting that 3 percent threshold to get some questions answered.

“I think if we were going to do anything, it would be to ask questions of those agencies and see why their numbers seem to be kind of out of whack compared to other people,” Hewitt said. “Maybe they have some broken processes, or there’s something we can do to help fix that.”

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