The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration says it has recovered nearly all of more than 50 laptops that were reported missing in January 2022 after not being returned by workers staffing the state’s COVID-19 vaccination call center.
The laptops, which were the subject of a report last week from the state’s Office of the Inspector General, were worth about $35,000 collectively. By the time the office published its Jan. 3 report, 33 were still missing, though the Family and Social Services Administration confirmed to StateScoop on Tuesday it has now recovered all but two laptops.
The computers that had been lost were part of a larger order of 500 laptops purchased in late 2020 by the Indiana Office of Technology, as the state got ready to stand up its COVID-19 vaccine services. The laptops were requested by FSSA, which runs the state’s 211 hotline, including a call center to help Hoosiers schedule their jabs.
To staff the call center, FSSA awarded a contract to Knowledge Services, a workforce management firm that had an existing agreement with the State of Indiana and hired remote workers for the project.
“These laptops were distributed to contracted workers at the height of the pandemic, when the state was urgently standing up a new system to distribute COVID-19 vaccinations to millions of Hoosiers,” Marni Lemmons, a spokesperson for the Family and Social Services Administration, told StateScoop. “The workers were tasked with helping schedule appointments in a streamlined system.”
According to the investigation, an FSSA employee would periodically pick up batches of laptops from IOT as more call-center workers were hired, between 25 and 50 per round. The two state agencies kept a spreadsheet tracking laptops that had been distributed, though initially workers were not required to personally sign receipts for the devices they were issued.
As the pace of vaccinations slowed down over 2021, Indiana officials started drawing down the call center’s capacity and laying off the workers hired for it, while others were fired for poor performance. But not all the laptops were returned.
The inspector general found that FSSA did not alway keep track of which call center workers were using which laptops, with one agency employee — who took to writing down the names of workers to whom he issued specific devices — telling investigators that “FSSA believed it was unnecessary to track the names” because the agency believed that the state would hold Knowledge Services responsible for returning the equipment as workers were dismissed. The agency also expected IOT could track the laptops’ locations if they went missing.
Graig Lubsen, director of communications at the Indiana Office of Technology, said that the agency can deactivate devices that go missing.
“It is unfortunate whenever state equipment is lost or stolen,” he told StateScoop. “To help manage this, for more than a decade, the Office of Technology has had processes for agencies to report their lost or stolen equipment. All IOT-issued computers come with data encryption and security measures to make the devices unusable, protecting state data.”
But getting the laptops back proved tough and often inefficient. The inspector general found that Knowledge Services did not document its own attempts to track down former employees who had not returned their computers. The company also told its people they could return computers at a local FSSA office, the state government headquarters in Indianapolis or through a FedEx shipment.
“With the various methods employees could use to return the laptops to the State, there was no clear policy for tracking the laptops once the State received them,” the report reads.
While officials eventually filed a report to the Indiana State Police that 53 laptops never came back, the lack of documentation and slow responses from Knowledge Services made the police’s investigation “long and tedious.”
The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, in Indianapolis, ultimately declined to pursue the case for several reasons. According to the inspector general, those reasons included poor business practices in how the laptops were deployed, insufficient record-keeping by Knowledge Services and agencies and the lack of uniform methods of returning devices to the state.
“Although FSSA worked with Knowledge Services to get some of the laptops returned, the State failed to hold Knowledge Services fully accountable for their employees’ failure to return state equipment,” the report concluded.