Tuesday, June 15, 2010

UT's Audit Figures Revealed without any Media Headlines

The University of Tennessee’s audit figures were released on May 20, 2010. There were no media inquires from school news reporters, glaring headlines or articles that insinuated that University of Tennessee is incompetent with its accounting and educating students. As I stated a few weeks ago, school audits are part of the checks and balances the Tennessee Comptroller’s Department conducts for all public colleges and universities in Tennessee; not as a witch hunt of any school.

What is disturbing about the lack of media attention for this school’s audit is the contrast to the continuous rectal probing of the folks at 3500 John Merritt Blvd by the very media outlet that did not report about UT’s audit that was newsworthy. Where are the protesters on this issue?

To blog about one school's audit and not others is not fair and balance reporting. In order for one not to appear bias or one sided, each school should be given equal scrutiny, don't you think? This is not an attempt to make any institution look bad but making sure a complete picture is given on the auditing process. All public schools are audited. But to be honest, the actions by a school of color are viewed far more harshly than their majority counterparts and are used to blanket the entire school while the same actions conducted by the majority are departmentalized or not viewed as an offense at all. This should also remind members of the community of color how working against each other is used to cement negative stereotypes about its community in the minds of the majority.

Let’s review why the audits are conducted:
1.To consider the university’s internal control over financial reporting to determine auditing procedures for the purpose of expressing opinions on the financial
2. To determine compliance with certain provisions of laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements;
3. To determine the fairness of the presentation of the financial statements; and
4. To recommend appropriate actions to correct any deficiencies.

University of Tennessee’s audit was 87 pages and it was as scary and spooky as the other schools given in March. Grab a glass of gin and tonic as you read from the findings and recommendations pages how the folks from Rocky Top count money without an accompanying headline or anyone raising a hand to ask questions.

1. The university needs improved review procedures to prevent errors in the preparation of the university’s financial statements

Our audit found that the University of Tennessee’s procedures for financial statement preparation should be improved to ensure the accuracy of the information presented in the financial statements. This weakness resulted in several significant reporting errors:

•On the university’s June 30, 2009, statement of net assets, the Controller reported $36,743,054 of unexpended state appropriations restricted for the construction of a Biofuels Center as unrestricted net assets. The amount should have been reported as expendable restricted net assets for capital projects. The error was corrected on the audited statement.

•On the university’s June 30,2009,statement of net assets, the Associate Controller did not separately report $32,179,500 of unexpended ARRA State Fiscal Stabilization funds, which were due to the State of TN.This amount should have been classified as due to the primary government but was instead classified as accounts payable. According to GASB Statement 34, Basic Financial Statements—and Management’s Discussion and Analysis—for State and Local Governments, paragraph 61, “amounts payable and receivable between the primary government and its discretely presented component units or between those component units should be reported on a separate line.” The error was corrected on the audited statement.

•On the university’s statement of revenues, expenses, and changes in net assets for the year ended June 30, 2009, nonoperating grants and contracts were understated by $7,134,555.00, and operating governmental grants and contracts were overstated by the same amount.A Business Manager in the Controller’s Office failed to reclassify
$7,134,555.00 of TSAC revenues as nonoperating revenues in a year-end reclassification entry. Four TSAC accounts were inadvertently omitted from the entry. The error was corrected on the audited statement.

•The Director of Accounting and Budget at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis incorrectly credited revenues against expenses in the university’s Graduate Medical Education Strategic Fund in the 2008 fiscal year. The error was discovered and the Director attempted to correct the error by reversing the entry in the current fiscal year. This actually led to an equal, but opposite, error in the current fiscal year. Therefore, on the university’s 2009 statement of revenues, expenses, and changes in net assets, utilities, supplies, and other services (an expense category) was overstated by $4,200,000, and governmental grants and contracts were overstated by $4,200,000.The statement of revenues, expenses, and changes in net assets was not corrected. The entry was deemed immaterial by the university’s Controller and not corrected in the financial statements.

According to the Controller, the two errors on the statement of net assets were due to the unusual nature of the transactions. The university has never been advanced state capital appropriations and is seldom advanced grant funding from the state. The Controller attributed the errors on the statement of revenues, expenses, and changes in net assets to an oversight.

These reporting errors resulted in significant misstatements in the university’s unaudited financial statements. With an improved review process, the Controller or Associate Controller could have detected and corrected these errors before the financial statements were completed.

(In case you weren’t paying attention the unexpended ARRA State Fiscal Stabilization is called “Obama’s Stimulus money” at HBCU schools. Just making sure you folks are awake. You should take a quick break right here, refill your glass and count to five, there’s more.)

2.University personnel overbilled facilities and administrative (F&A) costs to a federal research and development grant, resulting in $11,816.04 of questioned costs

During the year ended June 30, 2009, the University of Tennessee charged $50,140.50 of subcontractor expenses for Department of Energy grant number DE-FG07-07ID14895 to the expense object code “subcontractor expenses of less than $25,000.00.” Of this amount,$25,140.50 should have been charged to the expense object code “subcontractor expenses of greater than $25,000.00.”According to applicable federal regulations, the university’s predetermined F&A rate of 47% can only be charged against the first $25,000.00 of subcontractor expenses. Because of this posting error, the 47% rate was applied against the entire $50,140.50 amount, instead of just the allowable $25,000.00. As a result, the grantor was overbilled by $11,816.04.This resulted in $11,816.04 of questioned costs.

According to the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 2, Part 220, Appendix A,F&A costs [indirect costs] shall be distributed to applicable sponsored agreements and other benefiting activities within each major function on the basis of modified total direct costs, consisting of all salaries and wages, fringe benefits, materials and supplies, services, travel, and subgrants and subcontracts up to the first $25,000 of each subgrant or subcontract (regardless of the period covered by the subgrant or subcontract.) Equipment, capital expenditures, charges for patient care and tuition remission, rental costs, scholarships, and fellowships as well as the portion of each subgrant and subcontract in excess of $25,000 shall be excluded from modified total direct costs.

The departmental bookkeeper in the UT Knoxville Nuclear Engineering Department miscoded the $25,140.50 of subcontractor expenses.In accordance with university Fiscal Policy 115,the departmental bookkeeper reconciled the departmental ledger on a monthly basis, and the principal investigator reviewed the reconciliation on a monthly basis.F&A (indirect) costs are automatically calculated by the university’s accounting system based on the modified total direct costs posted to the grant.The total expenses, including the allocated F&A costs per the general ledger, were used to draw down federal funds. This was done by the responsible grant accountant in the Sponsored Projects Accounting Dept at Knoxville.The error was not discovered by the departmental bookkeeper, the principal investigator, or the responsible grant accountant.

Office of Management and Budget Circular A-133 requires us to report in a finding all known questioned costs when the known questioned costs exceed $10,000 for a type of compliance requirement for a major federal program. Federal questioned costs totaled $11,816.04.

I don’t want to give you all of the report in one sitting, this is good reading. For more reasons to drink, read the rest of the audit at; http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/SA/cu09084.pdf

I still believe that folks in Tennessee can’t count. Y’all will stick money in columns that makes me wonder if you can count marbles in a mason jar. What is so glaring about UT’s audit is the perception of the school is not reality. UT, who is often blessed by the media, but is no different in its accounting practices than other Tennessee colleges or universities. Dare I say worst? Some in the media have written the narratives about Tennessee’s colleges and universities and feeds the public what they want you to know about a particular school, whether it is true or not. The media determines what schools gets stories depicting dark blue woes or bright fuzzy orange storylines. I am inclined to ask, why pitch or advertised with media outlets that work against a school’s goals continuously?

The storyline about school audits, in particular, began in March with my boys taking offense to how their school was being beaten black and blue two weeks in a row by Broadway's media. After researching the audits to help alleviate my sons’ distress, what I read about their school was not only unfair but WRONG. The issues uncovered were far deeper than unfairness and truthiness; my sons were unaware of the politics and motives at work to portray the institution of higher learning at 3500 John Merritt Blvd. as one of the worst in the state. The release of the audit of UT with millions of dollars in accounting errors and no media coverage shows the media’s double standard in reporting of “school related news stories”. This also illustrates the importance of questioning the motives behind storylines. What some may report as news should make one pause to inquiry about the source and the agenda behind the story. As we have learned in the last few months, some stories are gossip whispered in the wind and are given sensational headlines. The stories are half-baked sprinkled with little facts and then frosted with rumors to feed malicious appetites.

What were the real motives for reporting only ONE school’s audit figures is still being asked by many in Nashville. While we are waiting for the next color of paint to be splashed/written, we know for sure it is easier to feed negativity about an HBCU school to the public. The media can used any medium to portray an HBCU school without any retribution and sell the story as a masterpiece when the story is really garbage posing as a reporter’s work of art.

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