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VA: State auditor pinpoints potential pitfalls in community college system

By   /   July 24, 2012  /   News  /   No Comments

Northern Virginia Community College was listed as a repeat offender in a recent state audit of the Commonwealth’s 23 community colleges.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA — Northern Virginia Community College — the largest of the state’s 23 community colleges — needs to fix certain purchasing practices.

The college was marked as a repeat offender for “inadequate control” over its credit card purchasing program, says an annual state audit of the Virginia Community College System, released this week.

In many cases, cardholding employees failed to produce purchase logs or supporting receipts. The audit urged NVCC, with more than 50,000 students across six campuses, to follow written policies.

“When management identifies cardholders who are not following the college’s policies and procedures, they should take appropriate action in order to mitigate the risk of fraud, waste and abuse by cardholders,” the report noted.

Some 287,000 students across 40 campuses attend the state’s community colleges, overseen by the Richmond-based Virginia Community College System office. The colleges were given roughly $1.5 billion in state money this fiscal year.

NVCC is still picking up the pieces from an internal control collapse three years ago, Walter Kucharski, state auditor of public accounts, told Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau. Then, turnover in key fiscal positions at every NVCC campus, coupled with a lack of written policies, led to a bookkeeping mess.

“Needless to say, they have placed a tremendous amount of pressure on Northern Virginia to hire people and to have documents,” Kucharski said. ” … They’ve made a lot of progress on fixing the problems they have.”

NVCC said it would work to ensure all six NVCC branches have a “campus procurement buyer”  who reviews purchases, and will cut back on the number of credit cards issued, among other changes.

“We’re not taking it lightly,” said Guy Meruvia, compliance and risk management director for NVCC whose position was added as a result of the audit.

NVCC and other colleges had oversight issues, but Kucharski saw no signs of abuse.

“I think our biggest concern right now is that they need to do a better job of monitoring what I would call high-risk transactions,” Kucharski said.

Flimsy internal accounting controls could, for example, allow staff members to pay fictitious vendors.

“If I can set myself as a vendor, I can then authorize me to get a check,” Kucharski said.