Property Accounting helps U.Va. stay
eligible for grants
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.
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.
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).
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."
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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."
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."
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.
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."
financial policies and procedures related to property, see:
Employees can address questions to or request a list of object
codes from Laura Lingo at email@example.com.