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Report: Largest U.S. embassy can't track supplies worth millions

From Charley Keyes, CNN
  • Report cites U.S. embassy in Baghdad for inventory problems
  • 159 vehicles unaccounted for
  • Report warns of too little oversight of medical supplies and drugs
  • Embassy response says "great strides" made recently in inventory control

Washington (CNN) -- The largest U.S. embassy in the world has very large problems keeping track of vehicles and millions of dollars of other equipment, from cell phones to medical supplies, according to a new State Department Inspector General's report.

An audit of the Baghdad, Iraq, embassy found that the rushed move to the new embassy in December 2008 along with security challenges of a war zone are partly to blame for inventory gaps. Add to that the challenge of providing for more than 1,700 employees from the departments of State and Defense and 14 other agencies and the result has been millions of dollars in unaccounted-for supplies.

One glaring problem is tracking down vehicles or even knowing how many the embassy needs, according to the report. There are 1,168 standard and armored vehicles assigned to the embassy but 159 are unaccounted for and an additional 282 don't show up on the official database.

"Motor pool personnel have struggled to ascertain the owners and users of these vehicles to properly inventory them," the report says. "Denying fuel and maintenance to vehicles until they are accounted for may solve this issue."

The inspector general warns too little oversight of medical supplies, especially of controlled substances, such as morphine and oxycodone, risks "a significant vul­nerability for misuse and fraud."

Millions of dollars of communications gear are improperly tracked, according to the audit. Cell phones that are unassigned still rack up monthly charges, wasting an estimated $286,000 dollars a year.

"Some assigned phones are underused or unused, and extensive charges for overseas calls have been as­sociated with both assigned and unassigned phones," the report says. The investigators calculated "the embassy could save more than $740,000 by disconnecting unas­signed and underused phone lines and curtailing international calls."

This isn't the first alarm bell about inventory problems. An earlier inspector general report had warned of looming problems for the embassy in Baghdad..

"Embassy Baghdad does not have adequate control of government personal property," the report from last July said. "The Embassy possesses a large amount of property that has not been received and entered into inventory."

The July report also looked at problems with vehicles, saying there was "no single, accurate motor vehicle inventory" of what were then only 750 vehicles.

Keeping tabs on vehicles also has been a problem for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. A State Department Inspector General's report from February, 2010, found that different lists put the vehicle total at either 144 or 239. That discrepancy of 95 vehicles carried an estimated price tag of $9.5 million. And the Kabul inspection report also said telephone, radio, and computer inventories were not up to date.

In an appendix to the just-released audit, officials of the embassy in Baghdad said progress has been made.

"Post has made great strides in its asset management program since the summer of 2009," the appendix reads. "A complete motor vehicle inventory has been completed and submitted, and our completed property inventory will be submitted shortly. Our cell phone program has undergone an intense review and revision. Post looks forward to providing answers and updates to the final audit report."