ORANGEBURG -- Getting details on how millions of state and federal program dollars for the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center have been spent over the past 12 years will be tough.
A preliminary review by The Post and Courier of some of South Carolina State University's records on the center reveals a convoluted system of record-keeping, with no central control and records on the same subject located in different offices or buildings.
The newspaper's findings are echoed in a recently completed consultant's report obtained by The Post and Courier. The report by the financial consulting firm Elliott Davis found that the scattered approach to grant management not only makes it more difficult to learn how grant money has been spent, but it also makes it more likely the school will fail to comply with grant requirements.
S.C. State has responded to a request from the newspaper under the state's Freedom of Information Act for access to financial records for transportation center programs from its launch in 1998 to the present. But it remains unclear how long it will take to sort through the financial information, and how much detail the school ultimately will be able to provide.
That's because getting to the bottom of how money was spent presents somewhat of a scavenger hunt, with pieces of the financial puzzle in different campus locations.
"Details are available on the campus, but not all in this office," John Smalls, senior vice president for finance and facilities, said of the Office of Grants and Contracts.
In that office, financial documents on grants are available in thick folders. There are numerous folders for each grant that makes up the $31.7 million for transportation programs that has flowed to the center since the program was launched 12 years ago.
For instance, the center has received $5.8 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration. But the office has dozens of folders of financial documents on that money, school officials said.
And those folders don't contain much detail on where the money specifically went.
For example, in one folder, The Post and Courier found a list of 11 "contractual services" in a particular year, and corresponding amounts that ranged from $2,500 to $38,402. But the folder contained no detail on what the money was used for, to whom it was paid or what was accomplished with it.
Smalls said details on expenditures might be found in the Grants and Contracts office, the Office of Sponsored Programs or the archives in Bradham Hall. And program details are maintained by the principal investigator on each grant, he said.
Smalls asked the newspaper to provide a list of questions from each financial folder to the university. School officials will find out more details about the expenditures and provide them to the newspaper, Smalls said. University officials understand the newspaper's urgency about getting the information, he said, and will respond as soon as possible. How long it takes to respond, however, will depend on the specificity and detail of the request, he said.
The Post and Courier in late July called on the school through an FOIA request to provide public financial documents on millions of dollars for the transportation center.
University officials for months prior to the newspaper's request had given varying explanations on which records the university had kept and where they were stored.
The request followed the newspaper's investigation into the transportation center, published June 14, which revealed that 12 years after the center was launched, no transportation research was under way and university leaders were unable to explain how grant money was spent in the past.
Problems with grant management continue today, according to the Elliott Davis consulting report completed June 14. The report reviewed expenditures for certain federal awards, as well as financial issues on collecting student tuition and fees.
The 16-page report included the following findings:
--$887,000 in expenditures was omitted from the university's 2009 Schedule of Federal Awards -- $298,000 for the "Clyburn Project" and $589,000 for the "Lowman Hall Project."
--The university has not been reimbursed for three expenditures totaling $869,431 from the U.S. Department of Transportation because it could not provide sufficient documentation.
--The university has a "highly decentralized" grant administration process, which maintains grant information in many different locations and makes it more likely the university will fail to comply with grant requirements.
The report also found that university officials don't have proper procedures in place to collect outstanding student tuition and fees, often admitting students who have not paid tuition bills for the previous semester.
It cites a similar lack of financial oversight for housing fees.
University officials are in the process of compiling responses to questions on the report, said Erica Prioleau-Taylor, director of university relations, but the responses were not ready by the end of the day Wednesday.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or firstname.lastname@example.org.