Magazine article Insight on the News

Uncle Sam Gets Rolled

Magazine article Insight on the News

Uncle Sam Gets Rolled

Article excerpt

Thousands of federal-government buildings are proving to be easy pickings for criminals, who are stealing everything they can get their hands on.

To catch a thief, look no further than Capitol Hill. Thousands of dollars' worth of government equipment has walked off in the hands of thieves -- everything from stamps to computers -- and most of it still is missing.

During a four-month span the departments of Justice and Defense were hit three times. On Oct. 29 and Nov. 25, 1996, transport trucks were robbed of more than $40,000 worth of government computers, says FBI spokeswoman Susan Lloyd. On Jan. 3, thousands of dollars in electronic equipment was stolen from a truck headed for the Department of Defense, Lloyd says.

There were 118 thefts from government buildings in Washington in fiscal 1996, according to statistics released to Congress in February. But total reported losses are not tabulated because Congress doesn't request it.

General Services Administration, or GSA, officials say the government lacks the database to track stolen and recovered property to give a detailed account of thefts from the federal government for each city. Also, none of the federal buildings are insured. "No insurance company is going to insure the federal government because it is too big and the risk is too high," says Steve Goldstein, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute in New York. "If something happens to the building, the government just builds another one."

Goldstein, who worked in the Department of the Interior -- where he says paintings were stolen off the walls -- blames security. "The security in federal buildings is not as strong as it used to be. People with ID cards carry things out and no one stops and checks them." The Federal Protective Service, which provides security to the buildings, refused to comment.

Based on reported thefts reviewed by Insight, tens of thousands of dollars' worth of equipment has been stolen from within the offices of Congress as well. Few arrests were made, but police did charge one suspect who was accused of stealing $10,000 of electronic equipment in a crime spree that included about a dozen federal buildings.

Nationwide there were $20.8 million in thefts of federal property and another $10.4 million reported stolen in personal property during the last five years at buildings run by the GSA. …

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