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Report: Customs bungles auctions

The U.S. Customs Service is losing millions of dollars because of its poor handling of the sale of goods seized from suspected drug dealers, a congressional report says. In an example that came only days after the report was released, a government contractor tried to auction everything from seized razor blades to twin-engine airplanes.

The auction took place in Miami, and the goods were scattered across the Southeast from New Orleans to Charleston, S.C.

"It's just typical of how we're losing money on this program," Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., R-Fla., said Friday. "It was difficult, if not impossible, for someone to look at this stuff and make an intelligent bid."

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight said the Customs Service was straining so hard to play a major role in drug control that the agency neglected many other functions.

The report issued last week cites "a complete lack of program oversight by Customs management" of its contractor, Northrop Worldwide Aircraft Services Inc., which handles the sale of assets confiscated in federal drug cases.

Customs took a hands-off attitude while Northrop collected millions of dollars in fees and bonuses for carrying out wasteful services that have cost the government "a ton of money," Shaw, a subcommittee member, charged in an interview with the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

Customs spokesman Ed Kittredge said, "We will continue to work with the subcommittee to correct problems cited in the report."