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Another audit blasts USF finances

More than a year after the University of South Florida promised to end questionable spending on parties, golf games and other personal activities, key USF administrators were still working on new spending guidelines.

In the meantime, outgoing president Frank Borkowski spent nearly $1,500 of state money on Christmas cards and another $2,000 on a "lawn party," without documenting how those expenses supported the university's educational mission, a state auditor has found.

"It was not readily apparent how these expenditures served the interest of higher education, particularly given the current budget constraints experienced by the state university system during the recent fiscal years," Auditor General Charles Lester wrote.

Lester's report, released Friday, is unusually thick with criticisms of USF's record-keeping and internal controls. Among the 22 items mentioned:

Payroll deficiencies that went uncorrected after similar criticisms a year ago, and which allowed a USF employee in May 1993 to forge paychecks and steal university money. "The thefts may been detected earlier had proper internal controls been in place," the auditor wrote.

Millions of dollars in unreconciled property inventories and numerous bank accounts that went unbalanced for months.

Budget systems so inadequate that USF could not accurately categorize more than $7-million in spending (about 4 percent of its $175-million state budget).

The auditor general's annual report also expanded on earlier criticisms of a university food service contract with the Marriott Corp.

USF's own auditors disclosed last summer that a USF official had negotiated a contract that did not protect USF's interests and had allowed at least $137,000 in overpayments to Marriott. The official resigned, and USF renegotiated the contract.

But, as Lester's new report noted, "in the absence of competitive bids, it was not apparent, of record, how the university determined that the food service contract with Marriott was the most advantageous contract available."

"Clearly there were some deficiencies noted, which we have agreed with, and we have put in place a plan to correct them," said Bert Hartley, USF's vice president for university service. "Some were more significant than others. But as usual, we will be a better organization for having implemented the corrections."

Discretionary spending on parties, sporting events and other questionable items highlighted last year's auditor's report. Six months before, the Times had reported that a USF vice president frequently used a medical school fund to pay for golf games with his wife and colleagues, art for his office, personal gifts, first-class travel and expensive dinners, including one $800 meal with Borkowski and four USF attorneys.

Public outrage over those disclosures led Borkowski to promise a prompt reform of USF's spending policies for discretionary funds. That was in September 1992.

When auditors reiterated the criticism in early 1993, Hartley said the new guidelines would be ready that April.

But when auditors began reviewing USF's 1992-93 spending last fall, they found that the guidelines still had not been adopted.

Hartley said Friday that new spending guidelines were approved in September, after interim President Robert Bryan took over. Hartley said the delay stemmed from the need to coordinate policies of five separate university corporations.

Hartley also defended Borkowski's expenditures on Christmas cards and a $1,627 "faculty/staff homecoming party" as prudent spending to promote goodwill for USF and employee morale. He could not recall the purpose of the $2,000 lawn party.

State auditors said they would watch carefully in their next review whether the guidelines were effective.

In another typical criticism, the auditors noted that USF's St. Petersburg campus had failed to correct the improper handling of checks received in its cashier's office to make sure that checks received are actually deposited in USF accounts.

After auditors pointed out the deficiency in last year's report, USF meant to correct it. But, according to this year's report, someone in USF's central administration sent the instructions to the wrong office.

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