MIA at City Hall: Radios, laptops and other equipment

Hey, city workers: Remember that clunky portable radio your boss gave you in 1995? Or the newfangled laptop you got in 2001? Where are they now?

City Hall wants to know.

The Controller’s Office set out to find out how much accountability there is for thousands of pieces of equipment — from defibrillators to computers — issued over the years to Philadelphia workers. In an audit released Wednesday, the office said it couldn’t track down more than half of 350 computers and portable electronic devices still listed on some departments’ books.

In all, it said more than 4,700 pieces with a total value of more than $7 million are described on a city inventory list as Could Not Be Located (CNL). In other words, missing. Some were issued as far back as 1989.

Of course, odds are that many were long ago trashed, are unusable, or have since been replaced by newer, better technology. But, not all: The list included a $16,000 GPS system, a $15,000 defibrillator, and an $8,000 thermal imaging camera.

The message, according to Controller Alan Butkovitz, is that the city’s system for keeping track of electronics is inadequate.

“The city needs an effective inventory system to maintain accountability over its equipment,” Butkovitz said in a news release.

In its written response, city officials said they were planning to replace the current electronics database — created in the mid-1990s — with a new and modern inventory management system. A request for proposals will be issued next year with completion expected for 2019.

In the meantime, the procurement department has requested inventory lists from each city department. Butkovitz recommended this be done annually.

When a department purchases an item for $750 or more (the threshold was increased in 2016 up from $500), it is expected request a tag, whose number is entered into a database managed by the procurement department. But if the office gets rid of the equipment, it must send documentation of the disposal back to the procurement department, which is expected to update the inventory list.

“CNL items are supposed to be removed from the list after three years,” the audit said. “Some remained on the records despite being missing for more than 20 years.”

But before city employees start dusting off their old portable radio, they need to check with the department head, who then needs to check with procurement. And with documentation of disposal, the items will be shed from the list.