The government is wasting millions of dollars in managing its vehicle fleet, typified by a newly purchased 1997 car that was parked for four straight years next to a Veterans Affairs medical center laundry facility, its keys missing, a congressional report found.

The General Accounting Office (search), in a separate report, found that the government database supposed to track government aircraft is woefully inadequate, resulting in the cost of aircraft operations being understated by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The two reports by the investigative office of Congress were made public Monday by Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.

"Reports of unused cars and hundreds of millions of dollars in unaccounted aircraft costs are simply unacceptable," Collins said.

The first GAO report said federal agencies spend $1.7 billion annually to acquire, operate and maintain a vehicle fleet of about 387,000, excluding mail and military combat vehicles.

The agencies examined — including the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs — can't ensure their fleets are the right size "because of a lack of attention to key fleet management practices," the report said.

It cited an Interior Department (search) Inspector General finding that a large part of the department's 36,000 vehicles are underutilized, and $34 million could be saved if the department got rid of unneeded vehicles.

A Navy review of selected activities estimated it could save $3.7 million a year by better management of its vehicles.

The GAO said some steps have been taken recently to improve the situation, including new rules requiring agencies to appoint a central fleet manager, establish criteria for vehicle use and periodically review fleet size.

The report on aircraft found the GAO couldn't determine the composition and costs of the aircraft fleet because the database maintained by the General Services Administration (search) was "unreliable ... incomplete and inaccurate."

It said that, according to the database, the government spent about $290 million in fiscal 2002 to operate and maintain some 1,400 aircraft. But it concluded that the database at a minimum probably understated total program costs by about $190 million a year over the 2000-2002 period.

As an example, it said the Justice Department's Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (search) spent some $59 million more than the $170 million reported in that three-year period.