Senator asks OMB to tackle problem of missing government computers

A lawmaker urged the Office of Management and Budget Thursday to tackle the problem of missing computers at several federal agencies.

"I'm worried that just as dryers have the knack of making socks disappear, the federal government has discovered a core competency of losing computers," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote in an Aug. 15 letter to OMB Director Mitch Daniels. In recent weeks, the Justice Department and several of its agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the FBI; the Defense Department; and the Customs Service have all reported that computers have been lost or stolen. On Thursday, an audit by the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration (TIGTA) revealed that the Internal Revenue Service could not account for thousands of computers used by volunteers in a tax assistance program. "This inventory control problem is serious and must be addressed," Grassley said in a statement issued Thursday. "It involves tax dollars and potentially confidential taxpayer information and data related to national security and criminal investigations." The agency also cannot verify that taxpayer information had been removed from the missing computers before they were lost or stolen, Grassley said. "The fact that the IRS cannot account for this equipment is troubling, particularly given that, and I quote the TIGTA report here, 'Every year since 1983 the IRS has reported a material weakness with respect to its inventory controls in its annual assurance statement to the Department of the Treasury,'" Grassley said. "TIGTA's report notes that these problems are not new and previous TIGTA reports highlighted the issue, made suggested corrections and the IRS has not acted." Based on recommendations from the inspector general, IRS officials agreed to conduct an inventory of the equipment used in its volunteer programs, to temporarily stop buying computer hardware and to issue guidance requiring managers to delete taxpayer information from volunteer computers after tax filing season. Grassley said he was concerned that IRS would not keep its promises and asked agency officials to inform him when the changes were made.

In his letter to Daniels, Grassley praised the OMB director's efforts to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in other areas of the government and asked him to take "aggressive action to control government inventory."

"This most recent report highlights what appears to be a disturbing trend of government coming up short as stewards of the taxpayers' money," Grassley wrote. "Fortunately, inspector general reports show that there are a few government agencies that have been exemplary in accounting for taxpayer money. Clearly, it is possible for government agencies to account for their computers."