Without knowing it, I was hired to clean up an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Audit, and I lived to tell the tale. (First lesson learned: ask about the status of current grant programming during your interview.)
My first day on the job at a municipal government started nicely enough, but before the day was over several finance department employees walked into my office, dropping a stack of boxes at my feet. Without so much as a backward glance, they encouraged me to enjoy my reading and holler if I needed any assistance. (Second lesson: be nice to the finance department.)
Long story short, long before my arrival the Police Department received $1,248,305 via five federal grants through the Community Oriented Policing Services program from the Department of Justice (DOJ). The money was provided to hire 18 additional officers. Things started out smoothly enough, but over the months the management duties were passed from officer to officer. Each of these officers did their best, but with no grant management training, things went from bad to worse. (Third lesson: lack of accurate reporting, late reports, and months with no reporting will land the OIG at your front door.)
The bad news included seven findings (non-conformity findings means the audit criteria of your funder are not being met) and a request to refund large sums of money. Herein lies my experience cleaning up this audit.
(1) The OIG is beyond helpful and will assign you a contact to help navigate it all. Mine happened to sound like Barry White, so phone calls were no hardship. He gave me pointers on how to tackle each finding and provided feedback on our documentation to make sure we were ready for official reviews. (Fourth lesson: this person will be your saving grace, so listen to his or her advice as if it were the gospel truth . . . because it is.)
(2) Findings six and seven requested the city to submit timely and accurate financial and monitoring reports. The city closed these findings by creating a grants administrator position and hiring someone with experience to help ensure grant management reports were properly handled in the future. (Fifth lesson: reporting is a vital component of quality grant management.)
(3) Findings two and five requested the city de-obligate remaining grant funding. In other words, there was money associated with the grant that was not yet spent, so we willingly (and smartly I might add) decided to forego the use of that money. (Sixth lesson: de-obligating funds is just about the easiest finding to close when it comes to OIG audits.)
(4) Finding one was a requested repayment of $432 that was an overpayment on a line item. The city accountant working with me quickly determined that the amount of time it would take us to (maybe) prove this was not an overpayment would cost more than $432. It was a financially sound decision to make that repayment, which closed the finding. (Seventh lesson: accountants are math geniuses, so heed their advice.)
(5) Finding four accused the city of supplanting (meaning spending money on items or services that your agency should fund and/or has funding in your budget to pay for) and requested repayment of $167,464. It took me and the accountant a year to go through files and more files to disprove supplanting. We used old memos, newspaper job postings for the police department, and city council minutes to prove that turnover was the issue, not supplanting. The OIG concurred and closed this finding. (Eighth lesson: you can never keep too much documentation. Binders with accurate documentation rule!)
(6) Finding three asked us to remedy $65,121 in excessive salaries. After a year of spreadsheet creation, salary documentation, and the like, we realized that salaries were paid over the amount allowed in the grant. I do not know if you believe in karma, luck, or divine intervention, but when I made our case to the city council it was the tail end of our fiscal year and we had enough money in the police overtime budget to make the payment in full. (Ninth lesson: when you have to repay money, I will take divine intervention every time.)
Throughout this process, the city continued to apply for and receive grant funding. The OIG never visited us again during my 12-year tenure, and I am forever grateful for that. As a grants administrator and GPC, I hope to never give them cause to visit my office, not even if the Barry White voice himself promised to show up.
What is your worst audit experience? Did you survive, and more importantly, what mistakes did you swear you would never make again?
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