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Chancellor promises purchasing program overhaul

By Dave Williams

dave.williams@graypub.com

ATLANTA - Georgia's public colleges and universities are mending their ways following an audit that showed university system employees the worst abusers of state-issued purchasing cards, system Chancellor Erroll Davis said Tuesday.

A state audit of seven agencies released this month found the most serious cases of fraudulent purchases were by several employees of Georgia Tech and Georgia Perimeter College.

While those episodes were "statistically small" compared to the more than 600,000 transactions by university system employees using "p-cards" last year, they can't be tolerated, Davis told members of a House subcommittee.

"In matters of public trust ... one dollar misspent is one dollar too many," he said. "As stewards of the public dollar, we cannot accept misuse of the program."

Davis said he has ordered a review of every p-card purchase made by university system employees during the last fiscal year.

The state audit, which only looked at three schools, uncovered about $40,000 in fraudulent purchases by an administrative assistant at Georgia Tech, including a $1,300 diamond ring.

Among the most serious abuses found at Georgia Perimeter was use of a p-card to reserve a hotel room in Hawaii for a personal vacation.

Davis blamed a lax management culture inside the university system for allowing such abuses to occur unnoticed.

"The p-card program is not the issue," he said. "We haven't created a system where an individual understands there will be consequences for their actions."

Davis promised to hold all managerial personnel responsible for overseeing their employees' activities, whether it's university presidents or prominent professors.

"If they haven't taken their managerial responsibilities seriously, they will either be trained, retrained or removed," he said. "I don't care if they're a superstar or a president."

Several committee members suggested that large agencies like the university system reduce the number of p-cards they issue or set a minimum value on each purchase.

In one case, the audit found that an employee used a card to make an iTunes purchase for 99 cents. Each transaction using a p-card costs the state $40 to process.

"I am concerned about the growth of transactions and cards," said Rep. Ed Rynders (R-Leesburg.) "The more you have, the harder it is to get a handle on it."

But Davis said the p-card program saved the university system about $60 million last year compared to filling out paper purchasing orders, savings that wouldn't be realized if the number of cards was significantly reduced.

"The costs of doing that would far outweigh the benefits," he said.

Ron Stark, the university system's chief auditor, said an initial analysis of last year's p-card transactions throughout the agency, will be available by the beginning of next month.

However, the full audit won't be finished sooner than January, he said.