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UCSD cancer center blasted for trip, meal, and event spending

"Payment of travel costs for a caterer does not appear to be prudent on its face"

UCSD's Moores Cancer Center
UCSD's Moores Cancer Center

As COVID-19 continues to ravage the world, officials at UCSD's Moores Cancer Center are no longer spending heavily on global travel and entertainment, at least for the time being. But just months before the pandemic hit, the center was called out by university auditors for mismanagement of the state institution's official travel and amenity money by unidentified executives, including "a recently hired administrator."

"The objective of our review was to determine whether selected [Moores Cancer Center] travel and entertainment expenditures were processed in compliance with policy, fund source restrictions, and budgetary requirements," says a December 5 report subsequently posted online by the University of California's Audit & Management Advisory Services unit.

"A trip by the Administrator to an international conference included additional days at another international location, some of which may have been personal, which were not explained in the documentation," according to the document.

"Other events indicated that the Administrator traveled a day early, without explanation of the business justification, and an airport meal which may have been unallowable per policy. Other minor arithmetic errors were noted."

In addition, "a duplicate reimbursement was made to the Administrator for one travel event totaling $1,040."

According to the audit, "the Administrator had not realized the discrepancy as she was under the impression that another travel event had been processed and the overall reimbursement amount for her events was close to her estimated reimbursement."

"Another travel event for the Administrator related to mileage for the Administrator’s commute from her home (outside of San Diego) to UCSD, after she was hired but prior to her relocation to San Diego," says the report. "While the Administrator received relocation assistance as part of her offer letter, it did not specifically address commuting for this time period. "

In addition to those discrepancies, the document goes on to say that auditors found "two instances where the same group of employees were provided with meals more often than once per month. Also, itemized receipts were not always submitted for expenses of $75 or more."

"We also noted that business meetings were often held in local restaurants, which can provide the appearance that a University business objective was not the sole purpose of the meeting. "

The meals were not consistent with university guidance, according to the report, which "states that business meetings between UCSD employees typically are held on UCSD property rather than in restaurants. Policy also sets limits on the frequency for providing meals to employees so that this is not considered a taxable benefit (meals should be limited to no more than once a month or twelve times per year, per group)."

A catered event held a year earlier held in association with what the report calls a Cancer Center Support Grant Site Visit caught the auditors' attention.

"In addition to the Site Visit held in October 2018, an External Advisory Board Meeting was held in September 2018 to serve as a 'Mock' Site Visit," according to the document.

Combined expenses for both, including Event Production costs of $119,274; Event Planning & Management services; $33,456; Caterer, $28,146; Branding/Graphic design, $19,361; and Florist, $14,772, totaled $235,818.

"Certain aspects of these expenditures might raise question of whether the expenditure was the 'best use of University-administered funds' as indicated in policy. For example, the Caterer was based on the Los Angeles area, and the invoice included $4,208 in travel, hotel, and per diem costs for catering staff. "

"Payment of travel costs for a caterer does not appear to be prudent on its face, and the cost of production services appeared to account for over half of the expenses for this event (including a “rehearsal” at the [External Advisory Board] Mock Site Visit). While this may appear to be a high dollar figure, MCC leadership indicated that the business need for success at the event was high to secure future grant funding."

Interviews with cancer center staffers "indicated that there was some dissatisfaction with the local caterer at the Mock Site Visit, which prompted a last-minute change to another vendor which had been used by the Event Planner in the past, and had delivered high quality services on prior occasions "

The interviews revealed that "event preparations evolved significantly in the several weeks leading up to the event, and logistical and other considerations resulted in escalating costs."

A December 5 memo from the university's Audit & Management interim director Christa Perkins attached to the document says that "because we were able to reach agreement regarding Management Action Plans in response to the audit recommendations, a formal response to the report is not requested."

As a result, the report says, the university received a refund for the unnamed administrator's duplicate reimbursement and the cancer center "agreed to develop budgetary guidelines for future significant events with estimated costs above a defined threshold and ensure management accountability for adherence to established budgets."

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UCSD's Moores Cancer Center
UCSD's Moores Cancer Center

As COVID-19 continues to ravage the world, officials at UCSD's Moores Cancer Center are no longer spending heavily on global travel and entertainment, at least for the time being. But just months before the pandemic hit, the center was called out by university auditors for mismanagement of the state institution's official travel and amenity money by unidentified executives, including "a recently hired administrator."

"The objective of our review was to determine whether selected [Moores Cancer Center] travel and entertainment expenditures were processed in compliance with policy, fund source restrictions, and budgetary requirements," says a December 5 report subsequently posted online by the University of California's Audit & Management Advisory Services unit.

"A trip by the Administrator to an international conference included additional days at another international location, some of which may have been personal, which were not explained in the documentation," according to the document.

"Other events indicated that the Administrator traveled a day early, without explanation of the business justification, and an airport meal which may have been unallowable per policy. Other minor arithmetic errors were noted."

In addition, "a duplicate reimbursement was made to the Administrator for one travel event totaling $1,040."

According to the audit, "the Administrator had not realized the discrepancy as she was under the impression that another travel event had been processed and the overall reimbursement amount for her events was close to her estimated reimbursement."

"Another travel event for the Administrator related to mileage for the Administrator’s commute from her home (outside of San Diego) to UCSD, after she was hired but prior to her relocation to San Diego," says the report. "While the Administrator received relocation assistance as part of her offer letter, it did not specifically address commuting for this time period. "

In addition to those discrepancies, the document goes on to say that auditors found "two instances where the same group of employees were provided with meals more often than once per month. Also, itemized receipts were not always submitted for expenses of $75 or more."

"We also noted that business meetings were often held in local restaurants, which can provide the appearance that a University business objective was not the sole purpose of the meeting. "

The meals were not consistent with university guidance, according to the report, which "states that business meetings between UCSD employees typically are held on UCSD property rather than in restaurants. Policy also sets limits on the frequency for providing meals to employees so that this is not considered a taxable benefit (meals should be limited to no more than once a month or twelve times per year, per group)."

A catered event held a year earlier held in association with what the report calls a Cancer Center Support Grant Site Visit caught the auditors' attention.

"In addition to the Site Visit held in October 2018, an External Advisory Board Meeting was held in September 2018 to serve as a 'Mock' Site Visit," according to the document.

Combined expenses for both, including Event Production costs of $119,274; Event Planning & Management services; $33,456; Caterer, $28,146; Branding/Graphic design, $19,361; and Florist, $14,772, totaled $235,818.

"Certain aspects of these expenditures might raise question of whether the expenditure was the 'best use of University-administered funds' as indicated in policy. For example, the Caterer was based on the Los Angeles area, and the invoice included $4,208 in travel, hotel, and per diem costs for catering staff. "

"Payment of travel costs for a caterer does not appear to be prudent on its face, and the cost of production services appeared to account for over half of the expenses for this event (including a “rehearsal” at the [External Advisory Board] Mock Site Visit). While this may appear to be a high dollar figure, MCC leadership indicated that the business need for success at the event was high to secure future grant funding."

Interviews with cancer center staffers "indicated that there was some dissatisfaction with the local caterer at the Mock Site Visit, which prompted a last-minute change to another vendor which had been used by the Event Planner in the past, and had delivered high quality services on prior occasions "

The interviews revealed that "event preparations evolved significantly in the several weeks leading up to the event, and logistical and other considerations resulted in escalating costs."

A December 5 memo from the university's Audit & Management interim director Christa Perkins attached to the document says that "because we were able to reach agreement regarding Management Action Plans in response to the audit recommendations, a formal response to the report is not requested."

As a result, the report says, the university received a refund for the unnamed administrator's duplicate reimbursement and the cancer center "agreed to develop budgetary guidelines for future significant events with estimated costs above a defined threshold and ensure management accountability for adherence to established budgets."

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Comments
7

Too many physicians )from what I have received) of UCSD, are only of just-above intern quality.

April 29, 2020

Thanks

April 30, 2020
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April 30, 2020
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May 2, 2020

Much of what the auditors flagged in this report were small in dollar value. An event like that one, costing nearly a quarter million, seems wildly excessive. That said, these revelations don't approach the kind of abuses that were recently uncovered at Cal State, San Marcos, where three administrators including the recently-retired president seemed to think state funds were for their taking and wasting. (I'm still waiting for criminal charges to come out of that one, but not holding my breath.)

The UC has been, until recently at least, lax on financial controls and has had a batch of scandals to deal with. Whether a report like this one is typical I don't know. But it would appear that they are trying to get such abuses under control and eliminate them. However, with all the money sloshing around the biggest UC campuses, especially those with medical centers, keeping everyone honest and careful with spending will be an ongoing challenge. Let's all hope for the best.

May 5, 2020
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May 9, 2020
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May 11, 2020

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