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November 27, 2014

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A sampling of sloppiness that auditors find in state agencies

State government is not a perfectly run operation, and if you thought otherwise, consider what auditors have recently reported:

• State regulators have failed to make sure that oil and geothermal wells are properly installed.

• The state doesn’t know all the places where hazardous materials are stored.

• A state agency has lost track of more than $15,000 in equipment.

• Transportation officials are inconsistent at best in inspecting trucks hauling people and household goods through Nevada.

The findings have been presented to an audit committee of state legislators assigned to implement corrections.

Here are the details:

    • Inspections of drill sites

      The state’s Division of Minerals “has not established an inspection process to help ensure oil and geothermal operations are meeting regulatory requirements,” auditors wrote. The 11 employees at the minerals division are supposed to monitor drilling on public and private land in Nevada.

      Auditors said that the division reviewed plans before granting drilling permits but didn’t inspect the actual drill sites, which would provide greater assurance that drillers stick to approved plans. Without inspections, the state lacks confidence that drill sites comply with safety and environmental regulations, including that they are equipped with equipment to prevent blowouts.

      There are about 430 geothermal wells and 111 oil wells in Nevada, auditors said.

      Auditors praised mineral division workers for finding and notifying owners of abandoned mines of their responsibility to install safety equipment. But they noted there was no follow-up when those letters were ignored.

      The minerals division faces a 60-day deadline to submit a plan to fix these problems.

    • Hazardous materials

      The State Fire Marshal Division hasn’t signed off on many businesses in Nevada that are highly likely to store hazardous materials and may not know where they all are, auditors found.

      About 43 percent of facilities potentially housing hazardous materials in Nevada don’t have the required permit, auditors said.

      Auditors said the division should try harder to identify hazardous-material facilities and help businesses that store or use hazardous waste to understand the relevant rules and regulations. Such an effort would also net the state about $250,000 in annual permit fees, auditors said.

      The division’s 21 employees regulate hazardous materials and oversee permitting and inspections at the 5,170 facilities that are known to store hazardous substances in Nevada.

    • Equipment inventory

      Auditors told the state’s Division of Emergency Management that it was sloppy in keeping track of what it owns, noting there hadn’t been an inventory audit since 2011 and that about $15,000 worth of equipment couldn’t be accounted for.

      Inventory audits are supposed to be conducted annually.

      Auditors also faulted the division for not logging about $257,000 worth of audio-video equipment in order to better track equipment and reduce theft.

      The emergency management division also should better track equipment purchased by grantees, in part by lowering the reporting threshold below the current $5,000 so that “laptops, cameras and night-vision goggles” will show up in property records.

    • Bus, truck inspections

      There is inconsistency in how well the state’s Transportation Authority inspects vehicles that transport passengers or household goods through Nevada. Some vehicles are inspected multiple times while others have not been inspected at all during the past five years, auditors said.

      When the Transportation Authority did find safety violations, it didn’t always conduct a second inspection to ensure the violations were addressed.

    • Data entry

      The Nevada State Library and Archives mail services, the state’s mail hub, was responsible for about $8,200 in overbilling and underbilling errors in 2012, auditors said.

      The errors could be attributed mostly to human error because workers manually entered billing data into spreadsheets, a practice auditors said is “inherently susceptible to error.”

      The mail services bureau billed more than $6 million in 2012, meaning the errors were miniscule. Still, auditors said it wouldn’t hurt to have supervisors double-check billing data.

    • And an attaboy

      The only agency to get the auditor’s gold star was the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, which represents Nevada in matters relating to high-level nuclear waste, including longstanding proposals to ship such waste to the state’s Yucca Mountain.

      “There are no audit findings to report,” auditors wrote.

      Instead, auditors found that the agency managed its finances well, properly monitored its contracts, kept tabs on its inventory and met state reporting requirements.

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