For local agencies that must keep track of thousands of government assets such as vehicles, laptops and radios, there’s always a chance items can be misplaced or lost. A string of audits in recent years has demonstrated that city departments aren’t immune to this challenge.

With additional purchases fueled by the stimulus and homeland security grants, some local governments are finding that their old paper-based systems for asset management aren’t up to the task. This was the case for the Dallas Department of Intergovernmental Services, which is responsible for tracking $15 million worth of assets, primarily for the Office of Emergency Management and police, fire, IT and water departments.

“The equipment that we track is grant funded, and specifically what we use the system for is homeland security equipment,” said Dina Colarossi, fund analyst for the Intergovernmental Services Department. “The federal regulations say every two years, you have to do a full physical inventory on all of our physical items with a unit cost of more than $5,000.”

In addition to the inventory requirements, once a year the city hires external auditors to ensure that the department is meeting its grant requirements. The department had trouble in the past when audited. Colorossi said problems arose because former asset tracking practices didn’t provide enough documentation to meet auditors’ standards.

“We would get a spreadsheet back that said everything is accounted for, but the issue the external auditors told us existed was that there was no record of who has seen that item and when they had seen that item,” Colarossi said.

In order to upgrade its less-than-perfect asset tracking system, three years ago the Dallas Department of Intergovernmental Services adopted bar-code scanning technology in a centralized system to track assets funded by homeland security money. Since the switch, performing inventory has been more efficient for the department and there’s been fewer audit complications, she said.

Information about the specific asset is entered into the centralized database. Once all the information is entered, a bar code is printed and put on the asset. Later when assets are tracked, authorized users log on to the system with the bar-code scanner to scan the item, which then keeps a record of who checked the item and when.

Before making the shift to Wasp MobileAsset by Plano, Texas-based Wasp Barcode Technologies, which cost Dallas less than $5,000, the Intergovernmental Services Department relied on spreadsheets for asset tracking and inventory.

But using a spreadsheet system or a similar practice can often eat up weeks of time for checking inventory, said Andrea Georgi, the company’s direct marketing manager. An older paper-based system can create problems for employees who must complete an inventory in addition to their everyday work tasks.

“Beyond the reason of needing to be compliant with audits, a lot of organizations have extremely limited budgets,” Georgi said. “So when you talk about having laptops go missing, when you talk about having GPS units go missing, you’re talking about a big thing to budgets that are generally pretty limited.”

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.