33 state laptops missing from COVID vaccination scheduling program

State officials are trying to track down 33 missing laptops worth about $22,000 that were handed out to contract workers during the pandemic to help Hoosiers schedule vaccination appointments.

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration administered the program, using workers through an outside private company called Knowledge Services. But neither the state agency nor the vendor kept track of which laptops were issued to which workers, according to a report this week from Indiana Inspector General David Cook.

The state purchased about 500 laptops at the request of FSSA in 2020 to support the Vaccination Call Center. The missing 33 laptops were part of that batch.

The Indiana Office of Technology, which purchases and distributes computers for state work, did not have an audit trail of the missing computers, the investigation found.

“One IOT employee explained that it is difficult for IOT to know how many computers are missing on any given day because the number constantly changes as laptops are returned or go missing,” the report said.

The FSSA “did not require a signature from the employees or otherwise track which employee received which laptop,” the report said.

One FSSA employee told the inspector general’s office that when he became aware of missing laptops from the vaccination program, “he began writing down the names of VCC workers to whom he assigned specific laptops.”

He said the laptops were not more rigorously tracked because the FSSA believed the outside vendor had an agreement with the state that held the vendor responsible for returning any state equipment. He also believed the state technology office was able to track computers and where they were located once they went missing.

As the pandemic wound down, FSSA engaged in at least two bulk layoffs because of the reduced volume of calls to schedule vaccinations, and some of the workers failed to return the laptops. In other instances, the contracted workers left voluntarily, sometimes without notice, or were terminated for poor performance, the report said.

The FSSA discovered that some of the workers failed to return their laptops after leaving and reported the theft to the Indiana State Police. The laptops were encrypted so the state agency said it had no concerns about data leaking or becoming compromised, the report said.

The vendor sent letters to some employees demanding the return of the laptops, and some dropped them off to a state office or returned them via FedEx. But 33 are still missing.

The Indiana State Police submitted the investigation to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office for consideration of criminal charges. But the prosecutor’s office declined to prosecute, due to poor business practices associated with accountability of the laptops and lack of documentation to prove recovery efforts.

“Clear notice to employees of the potential consequences will help encourage former employees to return state equipment and provide better evidence for prosecution when a former employee fails to do so,” the inspector general’s report said.

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