USF wrong to dismiss accounting errors indifferently

USF is a Research I university that may have misspent nearly $8 million in research funds over the past four years. Yet, the university has dismissed this problem, saying that the amount is minor compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars that the school receives each year.

A four-year audit conducted by federal authorities shows that USF owes the government nearly $4.1 million. This amount will be paid within the next 10 years and will come from research accounts.

Though the amount is large enough to quadruple the annual budget for the College of Architecture, the university seems content to casually shrug off this loss of revenue. Carl Carlucci, chief financial officer of USF, said: “Some mistakes we made, some we didn’t.” He also said “It’s just about the bookkeeping.” But isn’t the CFO responsible for USF’s bookkeeping?

“The main thing is that we did the work,” said Ian Phillips, vice president of research. This is true. USF did complete the research it was hired to do, but what Phillips is missing is that nearly $8 million was lost in the process, a result of a slew of procedural and administrative errors. Also, the audit of the 1998-99 records showed a near $2 million in errors, but the university has contended this and filed an appeal claiming that only $700,000 was lost.

USF has taken some steps to avoid a recurrence of the problems, including a centralized record-keeping network and the establishment of programs educating staff on what went wrong and informing them of new procedures.

USF was awarded nearly $254 million in grants last year, making it the second largest research university in Florida, with nearly half of this money coming from the federal government. If USF intends to keep the funds rolling, it should not be so blasé about multimillion-dollar mistakes.