Nearly half of the $1.2 million in equipment purchased by the state to keep polling stations open after Superstorm Sandy wasn't received, recovered later or disposed of properly, New York auditors reported Friday.
In the first of several audits examining the state's storm response, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services needs to improve how it buys and tracks equipment during emergencies. The October 2012 storm damaged and flooded parts of New York City, Long Island and other suburbs.
The division bought $1.2 million in generators, lights and heaters for election polling stations following the storm. The audit found that the agency failed to effectively account for $562,000 of the equipment either before distributing it or in failing to track it or develop a plan to get it back.
The division, in an earlier response to an audit draft, said it overhauled procedures and could account for 708 of the 811 generators, the most expensive items. In a statement Friday, the division said it can now account for 96 percent of all the emergency equipment bought during the storm.
DiNapoli said the division and other state agencies deserve credit for helping people quickly and have been "moving in the right direction" in revising procurement. "While some equipment will undoubtedly get lost or damaged during a disaster, taxpayers appropriately expect that the state has protocols to account for equipment purchased and recover what was left in the field," he said.
The 811 generators accounted for almost $740,000 of the original equipment, followed by 1,000 portable light displays costing $360,000 and 1,000 portable heaters for $73,000, according to auditors.
In a letter Friday to the division, the comptroller's office said that after the 2012 election, the division distributed some equipment to firehouses for other post-storm relief efforts. Equipment unaccounted for included $229,000 worth of the lights and all 1,000 heaters, auditors wrote, noting the division sought to get only the generators back.
In a February letter to the comptroller's office, Homeland Security Commissioner Jerome Hauer said Gov. Andrew Cuomo's priorities in the immediate aftermath of the storm included ensuring voting on Election Day, which was Nov. 6. The division planned to help 400 polling places based on its best information, bought equipment and "believes it acted responsibly in the procurement, deployment and recovery of resources related to Superstorm Sandy," he wrote.
The division has since partnered with the Office of General Services to establish a team to handle high-volume emergency purchases, asked counties last year for the return of all generators and says 87 percent are now either in its possession or are accounted for, Hauer wrote. He added that the state has also retained PricewaterhouseCoopers to recommend improvements in how it stockpiles, procures, tracks and deploys disaster-related equipment.