BIA 'mismanaged' radio equipment, audit finds
The Bureau of Indian Affairs wasted $3.9 million on new radios and could not properly account for $20 million it spent on the technology, according to recent audit.

The BIA "mismanaged" its law enforcement radio communications program, the report from the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General said. The agency bought and stored $3.6 million in equipment it could not use, lacked controls over $6.2 million in inventory, maintained inadequate documentation for $20 million in spending and improperly awarded at least $5.5 million to a sole-source contractor, according to the audit.

"This environment exposes BIA to an unacceptable risk of fraud," Jack Rouch, a regional audit manager, wrote.

But the BIA wasn't alone in its mismanagement. A separate report said the entire department wasted over $25 million on radio technology and still ended up with an inadequate system.

Interior "has an unsafe and unreliable radio communications environment that jeopardizes the health and safety of DOI employees and the public," the report said.

According to the second report, 86 percent of the BIA's radio sites are in "poor" or "extremely poor" condition with risk of injury or death. Only three percent were rated as "excellent," the OIG said.

Similarly, 56 percent of Bureau of Land Management sites were in poor or extremely poor condition, the report said. None of the BLM sites were found to be excellent.

The lack of an adequate system poses severe risks particularly in rural areas of Indian Country where law enforcement personnel often patrol large areas alone. The report cites a 2004 case where a BIA officer was attacked by a dog but was unable to secure assistance due to faulty radio transmission equipment.

"As a last resort, the officer shot and killed the dog to protect his life," the OIG wrote. "A passerby found the officer and was able to provide assistance."

The BIA is also furthest behind on a department-wide project to upgrade the radio system. As of October 31, 2006, nearly two years after the deadline, the agency was only 16 percent complete, according to the report.

In 1996, all Interior bureaus were required to convert from an analog radio system to a digital one. The goal was to have the new system in place by January 1, 2005.

"Our department-wide radio communications program audit disclosed that unsafe and deteriorating infrastructure hampered BIA's implementation of this mandate," the OIG said in the BIA-specific audit.

BIA started purchasing equipment to meet the goal but didn't have a plan to put it in use, the report said. As a result, over $3.6 million in equipment sits in storage at a cost of more than $250,000, and will continue to waste even more money.

"We estimate that BIA has spent, and will continue to spend, approximately $540,000 a year to store and maintain the equipment," the audit said.

Some of the equipment ended up being stored beneath a highway underpass in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That means some of the equipment will have to refurbished -- incurring yet another cost.

In response to the report, associate deputy secretary Jim Cason said the BIA was taking greater steps to improve its management. But the OIG said the BIA needs to be monitored to ensure it implements all of the recommendations.

OIG Reports:
Final Audit Report, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Radio Communications Program | Department of the Interior, Radio Communications Program

Relevant Links:
Office of Inspector General, DOI - http://www.doioig.gov

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