MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON
The Indian Health Service is continuing to lose equipment at an alarming rate despite efforts to better account for the agency's property, according to congressional investigators. In a report issued Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office said the government agency lost about 1,400 items worth $3.5 million between October 2007 and January 2009 including $37,000 in lab equipment at a Navajo health care facility and a $7,300 trailer in Nashville, Tenn. Those losses came after the GAO discovered an estimated $15.8 million in losses between the 2004 and 2007 budget years, according to a June 2008 report. Investigators also charged that the Indian Health Service had falsified documents to cover up some of those losses. The GAO said the agency has failed to implement most of its recommendations from last year or hold staff accountable for losses. The report says that one senior executive in charge of the agency's property was even given a $13,000 bonus after the report exposing mismanagement was released last year. "Weak tone at the top persists at IHS, with senior leadership failing to fully implement and enforce eight of the 10 recommendations we made in June 2008," the report says. "These failures strongly contribute to the continued loss and theft of property." Losses that still cannot be accounted for include a 2002 ultrasound unit valued at $170,000, a 2003 X-ray mammography machine valued at $100,795, dental chairs, cardiac monitors and a pharmacy tablet counter machine. The agency is part of the Department of Health and Human Services and is responsible for delivering health care on Indian reservations. It is already drastically underfunded, and officials estimate they have about half of what they need to operate. An agency spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.