Sept. 17-23, 1999
"Slow Dance" almost halts U.Va. e-mail
Continuing Ed. preparing Va. teachers for SOL curricula
Property Accounting helps U.Va. stay eligible for grants

Ethicist urges hospitals to learn from their errors

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"Notable" - faculty & staff
Architect Peter Waldman wins Rome Prize
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Writer Wendell Berry to visit Sept. 22-25

Talk on Rehnquist Court to initiate lectures honoring Abraham


Property Accounting helps U.Va. stay eligible for grants

Stephanie Gross
John Wallace-Smith (foreground) and Dan Fetko tag a $3,000 vacuum pump in the Engineering School's semi-conductor device lab, a clean room in Thornton Hall.

By Nancy Hurrelbrinck

They can park anywhere on Grounds. They know the lock combinations for most of the labs. They've been exposed to radioactive waste. They've been in President Casteen's bedroom. They've met almost every U.Va. employee.

They're the "property specialists" -- Daniel R. Fetko and John A. Wallace-Smith -- who track down every piece of equipment the University urchases and attach a bar-coded tag to it. Without their unflagging efforts, U.Va.ıs property system could lose its approval rating from federal auditors, making it difficult for faculty to get research grants. Fetko and Wallace-Smith tag over 4,000 objects a year, ranging from $2,000 laptops to $1.5 million Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines. They don't tag anything that costs less than $2,000, or $500 if it's from the state-supported Equipment Trust Fund.

Property Accounting learns that equipment has been acquired when it receives copies of purchase orders, which indicate an object's location and purchaser, as well as describe it with several codes: a building code, a department code, an account code, a class code that indicates the expected life span of the object; and an object code that tells what the item is.

It's crucial that employees get the object code right if a new piece of equipment is to enter U.Va.'s property system, said property accounting manager Laura N. Lingo.

"Everything we do is object code-driven," she said. "When people don't use the right object code, we don't get a copy of the purchase order, which means we canıt tag the item and keep track of it, and Risk Management can'nsure it." Lingo provides lists of object codes upon request (see box).

When researchers get equipment through the government, Property Accounting isn't notified, she said. "The primary investigator on the grant needs to notify us when they get it, as well as when they move or return it."

It hurts the University when equipment isn't accounted for, Lingo said. "It can decrease the amount of money we're allocated through the Equipment Trust Fund Š and it's critical to getting grants and contracts."

The U.S. Office of Naval Research conducts biennial audits for the federal government. If it finds too many inaccuracies in U.Va.'s property system, it gives an unsatisfactory rating. After three consecutive unsatisfactory ratings, the entire system is "disapproved," making it difficult for faculty to get grants.

"We came close to getting disapproved last year," Lingo said, noting that U.Va. had been rated unsatisfactory the previous two audits, but was rated satisfactory last year.

"We're here to help people," she said. "We want to keep the system up and running, so they can continue getting research funding."

Tagging the equipment requires special tools: Fetko and Wallace-Smith carry dental mirrors and magnifying glasses to read the serial numbers. Some objects are too small to tag, like an $8,000 microwave amplifier thatıs a 1/2 inch cube (it's kept in a plastic box with a tag on it). Some are enormous, like the stadium's speaker system. And some are so elegant, like furniture in the Rotunda, that the tag must be well-hidden.

Other objects must be guarded against bacteria. "When I tag something in a clean room, I have to put on a hair net, a lab coat, booties and gloves. If the clean room's in Jordan [Hall], I can't enter any other clean rooms that day," said Wallace-Smith.

The hardest part of the property specialists' job is inventorying the 4,800 pieces of equipment that get surplused each year, "stuff like computers and lab equipment that's been in people's closets and under their desks for ages and it's all dirty and nasty," Fetko said. "It's stacked and ready for sale, and we have to unstack it and read the tags and put it back."

But even more challenging sometimes is tracking people down so they can tag their equipment, Fetko said, noting that they've been called "the property police," because they're so persistent. Wallace-Smith said once when he walked into a lab, a woman looked up and said, "Uh-oh."

Both said they appreciate how cooperative most employees are. "We meet a lot of nice people and many of them drop what they're doing to help us find a piece of equipment," Wallace-Smith said, adding that he gets to know a lot of employees quite well.

"I was made an honorary lab member at one of the Neurology labs last week, because I go over there so much," he said. "It's enjoyable meeting people and seeing the work they do all over Grounds; it makes me realize just how much I don't know."

Employees may need to help five temporary Property Accounting staff who will be taking inventory, done biennially, of the University's 42,255 pieces of property over the next eight months. "Someone from each department needs to go around with them to help them find things," Lingo said.

"Our goal is to try to have as accurate records as possible," she said. "We're just trying to keep things from falling through the cracks."

For financial policies and procedures related to property, see: Employees can address questions to or request a list of object codes from Laura Lingo at



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