Five Months Later, North Dakota Game & Fish Still Hasn't Found All Missing Guns

It’s been months since State Auditor Bob Peterson’s office released a devastating performance report about the Game & Fish Department including no fewer than 42 significant findings. Most of those problems have been addressed, but there are a couple of lingering problems that still haven’t been resolved.

I wrote about it at Watchdog today.

Most troubling are guns the Game & Fish Department was using in their Hunter Safety program which still can’t be located:

I haven’t had a status update on the hunter education gun inventory this week but know we’re close to having it completed,” Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand told Watchdog via email.

A performance audit report, released by State Auditor Bob Peterson’s office in April, found a complete inventory of the guns used in the program had not been conducted in more than eight years, despite a requirement for an annual review. The audit also found instructors were “not required to sign an agreement for use of the guns or acknowledging receipt.”

In late June, Game and Fish officials told a Legislative committee they had located all but 10 of the missing guns, but in July that number was revised upward to 18.

As reported at the legislative committee, at that point we had yet to account for 18 guns and know it’s less than that at this point, but I can’t give you a specific number since I don’t have the final status,” Steinwand told Watchdog.

When legislators questioned Game & Fish officials during an oversight meeting they asked if those who had taken the guns from the department had signed any sort of a waiver protecting the state from any accidents or crimes that might involve the guns. The answer to that question was “no,” so there are a lot of reasons to be worried about the fact that these guns can’t be located.

There are a lot of cavalier attitudes about these missing guns among some of the state leaders I’ve spoken too. They don’t see the “big deal,” but I’d point out that authorities aren’t nearly so sanguine when a citizen loses their firearms.

And then there’s the matter of the inappropriate travel reimbursements. Steinwand says his department still hasn’t determined a dollar amount for what Game & Fish employees overcharged the taxpayers:

In total, the errors (in the sampled reimbursements) exceeded amounts allowed by $1,535,” the audit report stated. Steinwand says his department is working on calculating how much in inappropriate reimbursements may have been issued.

“We are conducting an additional highly comprehensive and detailed review of all vouchers that were identified within the performance report period,” Steinwand told Watchdog. “In this subsequent audit/review, we have even gone beyond the specific period identified in the performance report.  Given the many thousands of such vouchers over the past four years, this is an extremely massive undertaking.”

Steinwand says he cannot yet put a dollar amount on the inappropriate reimbursement but says his department will seek recovery of those dollars once their review is completed.

The auditors sampled 20 reimbursement reports out of 4,804 during the audit period of July 1, 2010, through April 30, 2013. They found that 12 of those reports, or 60 percent, included inappropriate reimbursements totalling $1,535. We extrapolate the finding from that sample out to all of the reimbursements, we’re talking about potentially more than $368,000 in inappropriate reimbursements.

Of course, 20 is a very small sample size, but there is a potential for a significant amount of money to be involved.

Remember, in July Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem announced that if Game & Fish didn’t get the inappropriate reimbursements back from department employees he would be filing civil lawsuits.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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