ORANGEBURG - South Carolina State University officials have yet to provide a detailed account of how millions of dollars for programs at the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center have been spent, despite months of calls for such information from state lawmakers, the public and The Post and Courier.
University President George Cooper said Tuesday that $31.7 million in federal grant money and $411,000 from the state have flowed through the center for transportation-related programs over the past 12 years. The money was used for research, equipment, an education program for secondary students, fellowships for students working on master's of transportation degrees and transportation planning, he said.
But university officials still have not provided information specifically on how the money was spent, to whom it was dispersed and what has been accomplished with it.
Cooper was more clear about the transportation center program money, however, than he was when he was interviewed for a June 14 story. At that time, Cooper, who had been on the job only about two years, said he didn't know how the money was spent and couldn't comment on the work of his predecessors.
The newspaper's investigation found that after 12 years, more than $50 million had flowed to the center. But the site for the new building was vacant, no transportation research was under way and the program had lost its federal designation.
About half of the $50 million was for a new transportation complex to be named in honor of Clyburn, the U.S. House majority whip and a graduate of S.C. State, the state's only public, historically black university. The other half was for transportation-related programs.
But information Cooper provided Tuesday confirms that even more program money flowed to the center than the newspaper found in its original investigation -- $31.7 million instead of about $25 million the newspaper found.
University and federal officials said they have a little more than $26 million available for the first phase of construction of the new transportation complex. About $3 million of that is from the state and the rest from the U.S. Department of Transportation. About $4.8 million of the building money has been spent so far, school officials have said. The rest is in the hands of the U.S. Department of Transportation and is drawn down as construction progresses.
S.C. State officials said they faced huge obstacles in launching construction of the complex. But they began work last month, even though no transportation research is under way and the state Legislature's watchdog group has launched an investigation into how money that has flowed to the transportation center has been spent.
Thomas Bardin, director of the Legislative Audit Council, said his group has begun its work at S.C. State. He doesn't have an estimate on how long it will take.
The audit council approved moving forward with an investigation July 21, after a bi-partisan group of nine state legislators requested the audit earlier that month.
Cooper also has requested that the U.S. Department of Transportation launch its own audit of federal dollars it awarded to the transportation center. Cooper said last month that he called for the audit because it was "approved and mandated by the S.C. State Board of Trustees." But the board has not met since July 1, so it could not have voted to approve the audit.
Doug Hecox, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, said Cooper requested the audit July 8. The agency hasn't decided if it will proceed with that audit, he said.
But Bardin said he has been in contact with the DOT and with the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Inspector General will probably conduct an audit of $15.7 million for the Summer Transportation Institute. That's the largest program grant that has flowed through the transportation center.
Bardin has said that the audit council will not accept the work of other auditors if there could be potential conflicts of interest. But he said the inspector general is independent, so the audit council could accept its work.
A 2006 audit of the Summer Transportation Institute conducted by Health and Human Service's inspector general found the university had spent about $6.1 million, and was asking for federal reimbursement of the money. But the agency couldn't even develop an opinion on whether 98 percent of the university's claims were reimbursable because it "could not rely on the university's financial management systems and related internal controls."
The audit report included a recommendation to "designate the university as a high-risk grantee" until it improves its management systems and internal controls.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or firstname.lastname@example.org.