Treasury needs more reliable system to track computers, IG says

Three Treasury Department agencies need to conduct more reliable inventories of their computers to better guard against loss or theft, according to reports by Treasury's inspector general.

The IG reports, released earlier this fall, were based on interviews with managers and evaluations of inventory procedures from February to August at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Financial Management Service and Bureau of Public Debt.

The agencies check their inventory at least once a year to make sure all computers are accounted for (or reported missing). But at two of the agencies, stockroom employees who have daily responsibility for overseeing the property conduct the audits, making the results less reliable than if an independent auditor completed the check, the report (OIG-02-119) concluded. The Bureau of Public Debt uses independent auditors, but until recently, the agency's audit review process was not independent.

" 'Key duties and responsibilities need to be divided or segregated among different people to reduce the risk of error or fraud,'" said the IG report (GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1), citing a November 1999 General Accounting Office report on the federal government's internal control standards. "The strongest control employed by leading-edge locations was to exclude those with asset custody from the counting activity," according to the report.

The Treasury IG also looked at the Office of Thrift Supervision's computer inventory methods, and concluded the agency's methods were reliable. OTS uses an automated tracking system for its annual inventory review. Computer identification numbers are scanned into the system and any missing computers are reported to the appropriate office for investigation, according to the report.

The other agencies included in the audit agreed with the IG's recommendations and said they would begin scheduling independent audits and reviews this fall. Financial Management Service spokeswoman Alvina McHale said the changes would be implemented by June 2004 at the latest.

The IG report praised the agencies for developing written policies for employees on the proper management and safekeeping of computers, saying the policies helped ensure accountability and deter theft. And all agencies took appropriate steps to prevent sensitive or classified information that may have been stored on approximately 80 computers stolen or lost from fiscal years 1999 to 2001 from falling into the wrong hands, according to the report.

The agencies also made sure that employees attended annual security training sessions and could only access sensitive or classified information with a password, so that outsiders could not break into the system and pose a security threat should a computer be lost and fall into the wrong hands.

In addition, the agencies required employees to clear classified data off hard drives before throwing the computers out or transferring them to anybody without a password to access the classified information.