The General Accounting Office yesterday criticized the University of the District of Columbia for spending $1.9 million last year on more than 3,000 purchases by employes who did not present receipts and bypassed regular procurement procedures.
In some cases, according to a GAO report released yesterday, cameras and video equipment were bought with school funds but were never labeled as university property. In addition, the report stated that UDC employes sometimes were paid for extra work without federal income and Social Security taxes being withheld.
These practices were widespread until spring of this year, according to the GAO, despite efforts to stop them by former UDC president Benjamin H. Alexander. Alexander took office last August and resigned this week in the face of opposition from university trustees and faculty.
The report noted that Alexander issued an order in late April that implemented GAO recommendations for strict new rules to stop any payments that are not approved by the university procurement office.
Alexander would not comment on the report yesterday.
In a letter in response to the audit, which was included in the GAO report, Alexander said he became aware of the "direct payment" procurement practice after only a month on the job and immediately asked for an internal audit and issued interim rules to try to stop it.
In his letter, Alexander praised GAO for its "timely comments and recommendations."
"It is virtually impossible now for the practices to occur that took place," said university spokesman John Britton, who noted that Alexander and other top UDC officials discovered the procurement problems before the GAO began its investigation.
Shortly after Alexander announced his resignation, The Washington Post printed portions of a confidential report compiled by his staff that outlined examples of alleged waste and mismanagement with which, the report said, Alexander had been confronted.
In addition to the procurement practices, the report said some employes conducted personal business on university time and others were permitted to come and go at will without submitting forms for sick or annual leave. Alexander has refused to comment on the report. Earlier, he complained that his efforts to "tighten up" the school's administration were limited by restrictions placed on him by the trustees and the hostility of UDC officials.
The new GAO report said officials in the university finance division circumvented Alexander's first directive to tighten payment procedures by authorizing payments as "emergency procurements" even though the GAO said it could "not find statements in any of the supporting documentation that these were emergency procurements."
Overall, the GAO said, about a quarter of all UDC purchases last year were made by employes without going through the procurement office. In these cases there was no competitive bidding and also no opportunity to take advantage of government-wide discounts for bulk purchases. Although the agency said it could not determine how much UDC lost in these transactions, its report said "several studies have indicated that as much as 25 percent can be saved through competition."
The 3,000 purchases involved ranged from athletic equipment to flowers, the GAO report said. In one case, it said UDC paid $3,922 to a caterer "on the basis of an invoice which lacked the date, location, and purpose" of the catered function. Since there was no contract, GAO said it "could not determine the propriety of the charges."