UCSD’s ailing ethics When a purportedly sick UCSD professor and his researcher assistant fly first class with taxpayer money, auditors may later ask to see the prescription. So says a recently released University of California audit, dated June 3, of UCSD’s Bioengineering Department.
“During our review of travel expenses, we noted an instance in which a researcher traveled first class on a federal award in order to assist a UCSD professor who had a medical condition requiring the use of first class travel,” says the document. “The professor’s airfare was paid using state funds, and the researcher’s travel was paid using federal funds.” But, noted auditors, “Neither travel event included documentation explaining the premium travel as required [by] UC policy.”
Raising eyebrows further still: “We also noted that the professor had used first class airfare for other travel events, none of which contained documentation supporting the use of premium airfare. In addition, it appears that the award documents for the federal fund used to pay for the researcher’s travel costs did not allow for that specific event.” In the future, the audit says, “supporting documentation should include a medical note certified by a physician dated no later than one year prior to the travel event.”
The finding may force UCSD to do a bit of budget shuffling but won’t cost the possibly offending faculty members anything. “The Department will review the award documentation for the funds used to pay for the researcher’s travel event to evaluate if the travel costs were allowable,” says the report. “If deemed unallowable, the Department will transfer those costs to an unrestricted funding source.”
The audit found other potentially costly discrepancies: “During our testing of travel vouchers, we noted one event in which the business purpose of the event was stated to be a conference in Vancouver. Expenses incurred as part of this event included travel to Boston.” The department’s management services officer, the audit says, “indicated that the traveler had other business to attend to in Boston. However, the business purpose of this travel was not readily apparent on the…expense voucher.”
Making things worse, the management services officer herself was found to have a conflict, being “responsible for approving her own business related travel expenses electronically,” though, “the Department did have a process in place to obtain manual approval of these expenses from the Department Chair.”