Financial audit by state prompts changes at USF

By Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Times Staff Writer
Published February 14, 2008

TAMPA - The University of South Florida last year had more than a dozen deficiencies and weaknesses in its financial operations, according to a just-released state audit that documents problems in areas such as travel reimbursements, cell phone use, the monitoring of vendors contracts, and the collection of student tuition.

The Florida auditor general, in an operational audit for the budget year that ended in June, found USF was not fully complying with rules for employee cell phone use, travel expenses, and employees' use of university purchasing cards.

USF administrators will discuss the audit and their response during a trustees meeting on the Tampa this morning. The audit indicates USF officials have already addressed many of auditors' concerns, with a goal of resolving them by this summer.

According to the audit:

-USF's Florida Mental Health Institute maintains a $12,000 bank account meant to quickly pay research survey participants, but the account's custodian had excessive access to blank and signed checks.

The custodian also was too easily able to change information in the account management system, increasing the risk "of cash being misappropriated," according to the audit. The auditors could not find evidence that bank account reconciliations for July through October of 2006 were approved by a supervisor.

USF has since tightened its controls to ensure supervisory oversight, chief financial officer Carl Carlucci told auditors earlier this month.

-One employee used a USF purchase card to buy a $1,936 laptop, even though university rules ban laptop purchases over $999. Auditors also found eight purchases totaling $3,180 for items not allowed under USF rules. They included nearly $1,700 in shredders and plaques and $1,440 for autograph books that went to retiring faculty and staff members.

Moreover, USF officials waited as long as 220 days after employees were terminated to cancel their purchase cards, leaving the university at further risk for unauthorized purchases.

Carlucci told auditors USF is revising its card policies, and is quickly canceling fired employees' cards.

-As of April 2007, USF was paying for 167 employees' cell phone service, but did not review the monthly bills to check whether calls were made for personal or work use, as required by the federal government for tax purposes. USF also paid taxes on telephone services for the 2006-07 budget year, even though it is exempt from some federal, state and local taxes.

USF is revising its phone use policies, as the audit recommends.

-Florida statutes allow a maximum mileage reimbursement of 44.5 cents a mile, yet USF reimbursed employees at 48.5 cents a mile last year. Administrators have since fixed the rate to match state guidelines.

-Auditors also found USF wasn't always properly monitoring or documenting some students' residency status, which is critical in determining how much tuition a student owes.

Auditors concluded seven of 40 randomly selected students were being charged in-state Florida resident tuition rates even though documentation proving this was either missing or showed the students should have been charged higher out-of-state rates.

Carlucci said the registrar's office already revised its policies to better track and verify students' place of residency.

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at svansickler@sptimes.com or 813 226-3403.