State audit blasts the University of West Florida over financial handling of state programs

The audit found UWF illegally took $2.4 million out of the Complete Florida Plus Program.

A state audit is blasting the University of West Florida over its oversight of $29.4 million in funding for state programs.

The audit, which was released earlier this month, found UWF inappropriately withdrew millions of dollars from a program without apparent legal authority to do so. It also failed to maintain personnel records supporting millions more in salary and benefit expenditures.

The Complete Florida Plus Program was created at UWF to help adults complete their degrees through the initiative. It provides information and access to distance learning and coordinates with the Florida College System and the State University System to provide online academic support. It also administers the Academic Library Services Cooperative.

Auditor General Sherrill Norman found lawmakers gave the university money for the program in fiscal years 2016 through 2019 and the university withdrew administrative costs from those funds as allowed. But the university subsequently then took out $2.4 million in prior year administrative costs from program funds carried forward from previous years. Norman recommends that the university prove it’s legally allowed to withdraw the $2.4 million or return the money to the Complete Florida Plus Program.

The audit also faults the university for charging the program $11.9 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year for salaries and benefits for 136 university employees, including 125 employees whose salary and benefits were totally funded by the program. The audit looked at the job duties of 10 of the 125 employees and found that while they had program duties, they could have also had other non-program related responsibilities. The university said they didn’t require workers to keep work activity reports or records. The audit finds that the absence of such records increases the risk that the program could be billed for services that are unrelated.

The university stands behind the $2.4 million in withdrawals cited in the audit, arguing those funds were previously incurred administrative costs that could have been withdrawn earlier, but were not.

“The University demonstrated clear authority to withdraw amounts for prior administrative costs for the Complete Florida Plus Program, in accordance with F.S. Section 1011.45 and BOG Regulation 9.007,” the school wrote in response to a Florida Politics inquiry. “UWF also demonstrated that neither Florida Statutes nor the General Appropriation Act require the program to maintain personnel activity reports.”

“The University has operated legally and ethically, and we will continue to uphold our values by operating with integrity in all matters,” a spokesperson continued.

The university added that it didn’t always take out the funds it was allowed to because of the significant time burden involved and the appropriations legislation didn’t restrict the use of carry-forward funding. In addition, the language in the bill lawmakers had passed didn’t include a time period on the collection of indirect administrative costs. 

The auditor pushes back in response to the university’s stance in the audit. She cites two court cases to back up her interpretation of state law that it does not provide express authority for the UWF to use carry forward funds for prior year Complete Florida Plus Program administrative costs. She adds that had the legislature intended to create continuing authority for the University to withdraw additional amounts for prior year administrative costs, it would have been put in the statutes related to carry forward use. 

The university’s Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors hired an outside firm to help determine whether administrative costs incurred by the program exceeded the 5% set by lawmakers and whether the salary and benefit charges were reasonable. The audit notes that as of January, the results had not been finalized. 

UWF estimated 125 employees provided $3.2 million in services to direct service organizations (DSOs) like West Florida Historic Preservation, but it did not maintain documentation supporting the actual time and effort of 38 employees who dedicated less than 100% of their work to them. 

Sarah Mueller

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to [email protected].


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