2021 | Government

County told to improve accountability with computer purchases

Government spent more than $643K on 643 laptops for telework

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Montgomery County needs to improve accountability with computer purchases after purchasing 643 laptops for $643,711, the county’s Office of the Inspector General concluded.

The laptops and other equipment were purchased for county employees who could work from home during the pandemic, starting on March 20 last year.

Before the county bought laptops, the Office of Device Client Management (DCM) loaned laptops to employees through an existing program. The program loans equipment for business travel, presentations, special events, work assignments, and work at remote locations.

DCM bought any additional laptops that were needed. It purchased 643 laptops as of Sept. 9.

According to the OIG review, released on Feb. 8, the need to make a broad move to teleworking “exposed shortages in equipment and deficiencies in policy to address the emergent situation.”

The purchase of the laptops “revealed a lack of clear procurement and inventory control policies,” the review said.

Contingency planning would reduce waste and mismanagement while minimizing delays, according to OIG.

In a statement sent to Bethesda Beat Thursday morning, Joe Webster, chief broadband officer of the Department of Technology Services, which includes DCM, wrote that the report acknowledged DTS’ “full and timely cooperation with the auditor’s various information requests throughout the audit process.”

“This effective collaboration allowed the OIG to conduct a thorough and meaningful review of the Department’s policies, procedures and practices related to the COVID loaner laptop program — some of which didn’t fully exist prior to the onset of the COVID pandemic,” he wrote. “Importantly, the OIG’s report did not allege or uncover evidence of fraud, waste or abuse.”

DTS staff members received a briefing on OIG’s finding on Feb. 3.

OIG staff members visited the DCM warehouse in September and found about 100 laptops in inventory and another 200 in transit. But DCM did not have a consistent method for identifying needs prior to making purchases.

DCM was instructed to purchase up to 100 loaner laptops each month as needed.

There is also no plan for what to do with the laptops once teleworking ends.

“The absence of a predetermined strategy could lead to loss, theft, misuse and waste. … DCM’s procedures should address timeframe constraints, warranty status, replacement lifecycles, accountability, inventory controls, and communication to departments, agencies and employees,” the review said.

In addition DCM could not provide OIG with complete records showing the location and assigned user of all of the loaner laptops purchased for teleworking needs. There was no policy requiring these records.

Lastly, OIG staff members reported seeing “boxes of computer equipment stacked approximately six feet high and clusters of computer equipment scattered around the warehouse in haphazard fashion,” as well as “extremely deficient security practices.”

Damage, loss, theft and misuse of the county’s equipment could result from faulty security and a disorderly warehouse, the review said.

OIG made five recommendations:
● Develop policies to address the acquisition, control and distribution of IT equipment in emergency situations
● Make purchasing decisions based on identified needs to prevent waste
● Develop a plan to incorporate COVID laptops into the county’s inventory
● Improve inventory control processes
● Enhance warehouse operations and security

Webster said the department is evaluating the recommendations from OIG and will implement improved policies, procedures and controls.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.