GAO concludes health services agency shorted Alaska natives

About $6 million worth of equipment, including tractor-trailers, has vanished somewhere between the Indian Health Service and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the result of "gross mismanagement" of the federal agency charged with providing health services to Natives.

That's one conclusion of a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress that examines the use of public funds.

Heavy equipment. Generators. Trailers. Tractors. All-terrain vehicles. Gone, according to the report.

The health service, however, disputes the findings, saying the property is overvalued in the report and the claims are exaggerated. The service says that in some cases it was simply a matter of inadequate paperwork that led auditors to conclude the items had been lost or stolen, when in fact they had been given to Native groups.

The service's procedures were put under the microscope after a whistle-blower called a federal fraud hot line in June 2007 and reported millions of dollars in lost property in Alaska and other states. The audit concluded the caller was right.

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