The Legislature's watchdog group is set to ramp up its investigation into what happened to millions of state and federal dollars for the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center.

Thomas Bardin, director of the Legislative Audit Council, said starting next week, investigators will be working full time at South Carolina State University's Orangeburg campus. For more than a month, they have been working mostly from their offices in Columbia.

Bardin said his goal is to complete the investigation before the start of the next legislative session, which begins in January.

The audit council is trying to learn how more than $30 million in state and federal money for transportation-related programs has been spent since the program was launched at S.C. State more than a decade ago. It's also looking into how about $5 million, out of about $26 million available, for a new transportation complex has been spent.

The council began the audit in July after state legislators called for it in response to a June 14 report in The Post and Courier. The report found that the university was about to begin construction on the transportation complex even though no transportation research was under way, officials were unable to explain how millions of dollars for programs had been spent, and the center lost its designation.

The building is to be named in honor of Jim Clyburn, the U.S. House majority whip. Clyburn is a graduate of S.C. State, South Carolina's only public historically black university.

State Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, said he trusts the audit council to produce an accurate and comprehensive report, and to get to the bottom of any problems at the university.

"The LAC folks are some of the best in the country," he said. "They are thorough and precise."

Ford also said that he hopes when the report is done, the council will be able to attribute problems to "bad booking" and not to financial "hanky panky."

S.C. State serves some of the state's lowest-income students, he said. "It would be shameful" to divert money from their educational needs. "Every penny at that institution is important," he said.

S.C. State President George Cooper said the university "is completely committed to transparency and accountability, and during this process we will ensure that the university fully cooperates with the mandates that the council sets forth."

Reach Diane Knich at dknich@postandcourier.com or 937-5491.