Every year, millions of dollars worth of state property goes missing: Tens of thousands of items, which supervisors in state agencies say they simply can’t find.
Don’t care about it? You should: You paid for it.
“The system is broken when you see this,” says State Representative Jack Franks. “We work too hard for what we give the state, to allow them to squander it.”
What’s missing? You name it: From hundreds of radios and radar units at the Illinois State Police, to a stolen ATV, missing boats, canoes, and a mini-submarine-like craft at the state’s Department of Natural Resources. Cars are missing. Furniture, light bars for the tops of squad cars, even an entire police radio console.
No one can find them. And the numbers add up. NBC5 Investigates tallied missing-property reports which state agencies are required to submit every year, by law. Among the agencies responding to a Freedom of Information request, we found a whopping $14,970,475.00 in missing items, all of them purchased with taxpayer dollars. Some were almost certainly stolen, others misplaced—but none of them found.
“I want to be charitable and say they’re just totally inept, instead of being crooks,” Rep. Franks said. “I would rather go with incompetency rather than with being criminals. But either way we need to find out, and we need to fix it.”
Among the agencies responding to NBC5’s open records request, the state Central Management Services department rang in with the biggest total—more than $3.8 million dollars in missing property. That’s ironic, because CMS is the agency to which all other state agencies report their inventories.
Next in line is the Illinois Department of Corrections, missing $3.3 million in taxpayer-purchased property; then the State Police, missing more than $2 million.
The Illinois Department of Transportation, the agency responsible for maintaining the state’s highways, reported a loss of some $729,000.
“I am not surprised by this,” says Hardik Bhatt, the state’s new Chief Information Officer. “We are in the 1990’s, or maybe even the eighties, when it comes to technology.”
Bhatt says when he took over last year, he was shocked to find state agencies using some 38 paper-based systems to keep track of inventory.
“There should be one,” he said. “I would call it technology 2000 years old. Paper was invented 2000 years ago!”
CMS maintains there is a threshold, where agencies reporting losses are audited, in order to try and track down missing items. But when NBC5 asked for a list of state departments which had been held accountable, no list was provided.
“Somebody loses millions of dollars and they say, ‘Oh well,’ [and] they throw it in a filing cabinet,” says Rep. Franks. “Those days have to end!”
Bhatt argues they are ending. He says the Rauner administration has embarked on a massive program to computerize the process, bringing all inventory under one modern system. But he admits that will take time.
“Decades of issues, it’s going to take time to fix it,” he said. “We have lost taxpayer faith over decades, over how we have run the state government.”
For his part, Rep. Franks says he intends to hold hearings based on NBC5 Investigates’ findings, to try and determine what is -- and isn’t -- done to track down all the missing stuff which the taxpayers paid for.
“It goes into a bureaucratic black hole, into a vortex, so nothing is done,” he said. “So we have a system of no accountability, no real checks and balances, and we may be getting ripped off blindly and we have no idea. Because nobody is checking.”