Saturday, November 18, 2017
Education

New FAMU audit chief has a challenge ahead

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Nearly everyone took the day off Friday from Florida A&M University, an official school holiday to start off the Memorial Day weekend.

Not Rick Givens.

Givens can't afford a day off. Just hours after being tapped to run FAMU's Division of Audit and Compliance, Givens already had plenty to do.

He inherited quite the challenge.

For the past year — starting months before attention turned to FAMU for the hazing death of one of its students — state leaders and law firms have been looking into more than a dozen university audits that seemed to have been essentially fabricated. Under the audit office's former leader, 15 "executive summaries" of audits were turned into university officials before any actual auditing was done.

Those included reviews of controls for grade changes, information technology fees, contracts and grants, and revenues from athletics.

"I don't know if he just got swamped or got in a hurry or whatever," Givens said about his predecessor, who abruptly resigned after a report detailed the findings last year. "We just have to proceed with doing our job. … It'll be a challenge, but I think we're ready to try to move forward."

He knew what he was getting into.

Givens, 60, a soft-spoken certified public accountant from Tallahassee, has already been working as the interim audit leader for months.

Not only that, he previously worked for the Florida Auditor General. He was there when FAMU grabbed headlines in the late '90s and early 2000s for financial mismanagement: professors and graduate students missing paychecks; a financial aid officer accepting bribes for submitting fake records for extra aid; questionable spending in the grant office; and the disappearance of thousands of dollars worth of campus property, to name just a handful of issues.

He worked on the last audit before president James Ammons took over in 2007, promising to clean things up. At that time, state leaders were calling for a criminal investigation into FAMU's finances, and the university's accreditation was at risk

To say the university is headed back in that direction, Givens said, would be "overreacting."

Still, the trouble at hand isn't exactly minor.

It started in early summer 2011, when FAMU gave the Board of Governors a number of summaries of campus audits. The board asked FAMU for the full audits backing up the reports. About the same time, the state university system inspector general received two whistle-blower complaints alleging that those summaries were made up, with no work done to support them.

FAMU hired an outside law firm, Sniffen and Spellman, to look into it.

Here's what they found:

• Fifteen audit or review reports were submitted to the university's Board of Trustees in the form of summaries, "when, at the time the reports were submitted, no final report had ever been prepared," the law firm concluded.

• Thirteen similarly unsubstantiated reports were submitted to the Florida Board of Governors.

• FAMU's Division of Audit and Compliance did not have a quality assurance plan in place, nor did it conduct risk assessments.

• The report, released Nov. 9, blamed the office's leader, Charles O'Duor, who resigned less than a week later.

In the months that followed, state university system chancellor Frank Brogan and the Board of Governors ordered the university to complete those audits, review how the office is overseen and begin another independent assessment of the office's quality assurance program.

FAMU hired two more outside firms, Accretive Solutions and Ernst & Young, to help sort out the issues.

The school ultimately decided to redo only eight of the 15 troubled audits, Givens said, after auditors were able to substantiate seven of the summaries. He said the rest would be completed next month, around the same time the FAMU Board of Trustees meets to formally vote on Givens' hiring.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337.

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