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Unfortunately I believe that we are limited in what we can focus on. I think that if we proceed with the partisan sideshow of prosecuting Bush admin. officials, healthcare will get lost in the brouhaha.
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GAO: 'Jaws of Life,' Tractors, Laptops Went Missing

POSTED: 02:55 PM ET, 07/21/2008 by Derek Kravitz

"Washington Watchdogs," a periodic feature of the Post's Investigations blog, looks at the findings of the federal government's official investigators.

Millions of dollars in equipment purchased by the Indian Health Service, including all-terrain vehicles and tractors, laptop computers and digital cameras, have been lost or stolen, according to a report released today by the Government Accountability Office.

The Rockville, Md.-based Indian Health Service, which employs about 15,500 people and receives about $3.2 billion in federal funding per year, operates under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides medical services to 562 federally recognized tribes of American Indians and Alaska natives, representing about 1.9 million people.

The Government Accountability Office began investigating the agency a year ago after a whistleblower, identified only as a "cognizant property official," called a government watchdog hotline. The official alleged that employees could not find 1,180 computers, cameras and other items valued at about $1.8 million.

The whistleblower also claimed that superiors routinely "wrote off" the purchase of expensive equipment to avoid "holding anyone financially liable," the report said.

After conducting an audit of property records from 2004 to 2007, investigators said they identified about 5,000 missing or stolen items throughout the agency's headquarters and 12 regional offices scattered across the country. The missing items are valued at roughly $15.8 million.

Indian Health Service officials objected to many of the report's findings, saying that most of the items were not lost but temporarily misplaced, partly because of a new inventory system implemented in 2005. Officials also said that many of the items that were discarded were between 15 and 35 years old, well beyond their shelf life.

But investigators pointed to a number of "egregious" errors, including the purchase of thousands of dollars in brand-new computers found "collecting dust in a storeroom;" a yard sale by government workers in 2005 in Schurz, Nevada, which resulted in 17 computers being given away for free; the theft of a desktop computer in 2007 from a New Mexico hospital that contained a database of 849 uranium miners, their social security numbers and medical histories; and the creation of fake purchasing documents to purposely mislead auditors.

Investigators also found one instance where $700,000 worth of IT equipment had to be thrown away because it was damaged by "bat dung."

Jacqueline L. Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, a nonpartisan group in Washington that monitors federal Indian policies, said the loss of "critical" equipment in tribal lands further highlights shortages in those areas. She specifically pointed to several missing Jaws of Life equipment, which are used to help pull injured people from car and truck accidents.

"Car accidents are a leading killer in tribal country," she said. "I was a little shocked at how extensive some of the property loss was."

Democratic congressional leaders who received the report yesterday quickly pounced on the findings.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the report showed a "disservice to Native Americans who are so greatly in need of critical health care services and to whom the federal government has a special obligation." Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said the audit "proves to be yet another example of the Bush Administration's lack of commitment to addressing Indian health care."

Thomas W. Sweeney, a spokesman for the Indian Health Service, declined to comment on the report's findings beyond the agency's formal response.

--Derek Kravitz

By Derek Kravitz |  July 21, 2008; 2:55 PM ET Washington Watchdogs
Previous: Trial Highlights Legal Battle Over Terror Suspects | Next: Armed Services Head: Air Force Needs Shake-Up


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What's all this indignation? Historically, doing the indians is a national pastime... Led by respected presidents and politicians of nearly every generation.

Posted by: TerrifiedCitizen | July 22, 2008 12:01 AM

Well this is a start in the right direction, however the "Rest of the Story' needs to be investigated. By this I mean the misuse of healthcare funds that occurs within certain tribes. I am aware of several facts that substantiate my allegations. First, the New Mexico Jemez Pueblo Health Services department used $7,000 of federal healthcare funds for a 2006 Christmas party. Further, they stated on the invoice that this money was used for education. In the 'outside' world this would land someone in jail. In addition this tribe receives $21 million every three years for approx 1900 people who live on the reservation. Yet presently there is not a physician at the health clinic, only two physician assistants. Interestingly, there has not been a thorough audit nor a forensic audit by HHS/IHS to account for the federal funds given to the Jemez healthcare services. Presently Jemez's Healthcare Services department is run by a veterinarian, who has zero human healthcare experience, but his one attribute is that he is Jemez. Further, he manages to run this department as well as run a full time veterinarian clinic at the same time. Finally, this particular tribe has numerous government cars, but few are used by those within the healthcare department. There is much more corruption within this tribe, and a lot of the information was sent over a year ago to HHS' Inspector General, NM Medicaid and Medicare Fraud unit, the FBI, a NM state senator, and an Albuquerque newspaper. However to date an investigation has not occurred. The government of this tribe appears to be protected while the Jemez people do not receive all the healthcare funds allocated by the US government. In this instance, it is not the US government who is abusing Native Americans, it is the Jemez Pueblo government itself who is abusing their own people.

Posted by: SeenMuchWorse | July 23, 2008 4:52 PM

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