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Y2K spending criticized
By Dennis Romboy Deseret News staff writer
State human services agencies inappropriately spent more than $550,000 on Y2K supplies such as portable generators, 72-hour kits, meals-ready-to-eat and used water storage barrels that turned out to be contaminated, a state audit found. A legislative auditor general's report of state government's Y2K expenditures released Wednesday outlined the spending irregularities.
The Utah Legislature appropriated $13.5 million to 20 state entities with a directive that it be used only to remedy potential problems with the two-digit date field in computers. Of the five agencies legislative auditors reviewed, only the Department of Human Services bought items not related to Y2K, according to the report. The purchases did not meet legislative guidelines and were not necessary for the potential Y2K computer crisis, the report said. "It is disturbing," Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens, R—Farr West, said of the department's not following the law. Human Services spent $1.2 million in state funds preparing for a millennium bug, $551,800 of which went for supplies, including radios, cooking grills and 2,520 72-hour kits for employees. Auditors questioned the survival packets because no other department in the state has them. Stephens said the state shouldn't buy them for any of its employees. "I don't know of any business in the state that buys 72-hour kits for their employees," he said. "It just does not seem to make a lot of sense."
Department officials defended the stockpiling, but spokeswoman Carol Sisco conceded "a few bad decisions were made." "We have vulnerable clients who live in 24-hour institutions," she said. "We needed to make sure our clients were safe and that our employees were available to help them." Most of the supplies went to the Division of Youth Corrections, the Utah State Developmental Center and the Utah State Hospital. Mark Ward, Human Services deputy director, said legislative intent for the money changed several times and administrators believed they spent it properly. The purchases were all related to Y2K preparations, he said. "This was a great unknown that everyone was faced with as well as looming deadlines," Ward said. "You don't want to be looking back saying, 'I wish we would have done this.' " The report called youth corrections' buying the contaminated 55-gallon water containers a "poor" and "hasty" decision. Some of the barrel tops had explicit warnings against using them for human consumption.
The report also questions the decision to buy portable generators for youth corrections and the developmental center. Many of the facilities already have backup electricity.
In a written response to the report, former state Y2K coordinator David Fletcher said if one or two agencies exceeded necessary preparations, they were not alone. "While it is easy to criticize those efforts in retrospect, we must remember the environment that they were operating in."
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), August 30, 2001