A recently released audit of the University of Connecticut (UConn) found the school failed to follow state laws on competitively soliciting contracts over $500,000 for several projects. In addition, the school failed to properly handle several matters relating to compensation.
The audit, conducted by the state’s auditors of public accounts, looked at a portion of the university’s operations for the fiscal years ending in June 2019, 2020, and 2021. It revealed 22 findings, 18 of which were repeats from the previous audit and identified “internal control deficiencies; instances of noncompliance with laws, regulations, and policies; and a need for improvement in practices and procedures that warrant management’s attention.”
Among the findings was a violation of a state statute requiring UConn to publicly solicit services for construction projects estimated to cost more than $500,000. The same statute also requires the school to publicly post a notice on its website and the state contracting portal so contractors can submit bids.
Auditors reviewed six contracts, together totaling just over $20.3 million, that required the solicitation of bids and found UConn failed to competitively solicit a roughly $943,000 contract, instead securing a vendor by using a sole source procurement. The audit also identified a seventh contract, worth approximately $2.1 million, which was secured with a sole source procurement. In total, the audit found the university awarded roughly $3.1 million to a single vendor via sole source procurement, violating the competitive bidding requirement in state law.
In addition, the auditors examined five construction manager at risk (CMR) projects, which require a commitment from a construction manager to deliver a project within a guaranteed maximum price. All five projects were subject to competitive solicitation requirements, but auditors found one was not competitively solicited and awarded to a CMR who was already involved with another project.
The finding that UConn failed to solicit competitive bids for contracts was also reported in a previous audit of the school, in a report covering the fiscal years ending June 2016 through June 2018.
The audit report notes that UConn disagrees with the finding that it violated the law.
“The university has broad statutory authority to procure professional services, and the professional services contract in question was awarded on a sole source basis, in a manner consistent with the University’s policies and procedures established for the same.” UConn responded.
The university claims the sole source award was due to “unique circumstances whereby a developer commenced the design under a development agreement and the university was ultimately required to continue the design of the project under a direct contract with the design professional midway through the design process in order to maintain the schedule and avoid the loss of design fees already spent.” However, auditors do not believe the project in question met the requisite conditions to be exempted from competitive bidding.
Several other of the audit’s findings relate to UConn’s practice of compensating employees.
One finding reviewed 15 employees who participated in UConn’s sabbatical leave program. According to the audit, the school’s bylaws state that sabbatical leave lasts for a period of one year and can be taken at half pay, or for up to half the period at full pay. Employees who take a sabbatical are also required to return to active service for at least one year and to return pay earned during the leave if they do not do so.
Auditors identified two employees who were granted a full period of sabbatical leave at full pay and were overpaid approximately $355,000 and $98,000 respectively. The audit also identified four faculty members who did not return to active service for the minimum period of a year following their sabbatical. The university paid approximately $289,000 to those employees and did not seek repayment.
This finding was also reported in the previous audit of the school.
The audit recommended the university adhere to its bylaws when administering its sabbatical leave program and maintain written documentation of deviations from formal policy, a finding which UConn agreed with. The school noted that it will develop a “refreshed and appropriate approval process.”
The audit also found that UConn was excessively compensating some employees who stepped down from managerial roles. They reviewed 20 employees who moved from 12-month management positions to 9-month base salary faculty positions during the course of the audit period. In four instances, they found that the employee’s base salaries increased by a range of roughly $5,400 to $25,000. Auditors also could not find documentation justifying the increase.
This finding was also reported in the previous audit of the school.
Auditors recommended UConn compensate employees stepping down from management at a level consistent with their new positions and document why their new salaries are higher if those compensation rates are warranted.
Other findings of the audit revealed that UConn did not properly approve overtime requests for nine employees, five of whom earned overtime without approval and four of whom collectively earned 798 hours more than was approved. Both instances violate the university’s collective bargaining agreement with the professional employees association.
The audit also found that two employees approved their direct supervisors’ time sheets, decreasing assurance employees provided service during the pay period, and that nine employees who received a tuition reimbursement or waiver took classes during regular work hours and did not fill out a flexible work schedule form, as is required by the tuition waiver.
The audit also found UConn does not require contractors or consultants of construction projects to sign conflict of interest disclosure forms and that several UConn special payroll employees who had relatives working for the school did not properly file conflict of interest forms.
In addition, members of the university’s board of trustees are not required to disclose actual, potential, or perceived conflicts of interest. The audit revealed one board member who did not disclose what appeared to be a conflict of interest. After review, auditors determined there was not a real conflict of interest but noted that the appearance of one could undermine public trust.
Further, the audit reviewed eight rental units owned and managed by the university and found that the university lacked a tracking system to help determine housing application form receipt dates and dates related to the housing awarding process. It also found one tenant did not file a housing application and three housing applications did not have a department head’s approval signature, which is required.