State auditors, in a report released Thursday, found that Tunxis Community College in Farmington “repeatedly” violated state travel policies by reimbursing an employee for more than $82,000 in travel expenses in 2016 and 2017, including a pricey stay on the Las Vegas Strip.
Auditors said the Tunxis employee stayed in out-of-state hotels 41 nights in those two fiscal years, half of which cost more than $300 per night. On one trip, they said the employee spent $400 per night to stay at a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, even though the conference the individual attended was located 4 miles way.
“This employee predominantly stayed at the same high-priced hotel chain and used a rewards card,” the auditors wrote. “The card accrued enough points to achieve the highest tier of the hotel’s rewards program.”
Per policies adopted by the state Board of Regents for Higher Education, the auditors said employees traveling on college business must have plans and costs pre-approved to “ensure the travel benefits the state at a reasonable price.”
Unless an employee is staying at the hotel where a conference is taking place, they are also expected to find “cost-effective lodging,” according to the travel policies. Colleges should only pay for hotels when an employee travels more than 75 miles from home or receives a pre-approved exemption.
The auditors said Tunxis did not document that the college or the employee compared rates to find the lowest-priced hotel rooms and that in one case the college reimbursed the employee for a hotel stay in Chicopee, Massachusetts, less than 75 miles from the individual’s home.
Employees are also expected to submit their actual expenses for reimbursement within 30 days of the end of the trip. The state found that in 14 instances the employee waited at least six months before doing so and twice submitted requests a year after a trip.
In response to the auditors’ findings, Tunxis acknowledged the employee, who was not identified in the audit, had violated the board’s travel policies and procedures, but said neither the college nor the state absorbed the expenses because the school was reimbursed for the costs through a grant from the National Science Foundation. The federal agency is funded through Congress.
“This finding concerns lodging arrangements for only one employee who often travels as part of work done in concert with a federal grant funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF),” Tunxis wrote in the auditors’ report.
Still, the auditors said the NSF “limits travel reimbursements to the amounts allowed by the non-federal agency. As such, these travel costs were subject to state requirements.”
CSCU Director of Communications Leigh Appleby said in a statement Thursday: “We were made aware of this finding last year, and since then Tunxis and all colleges have taken steps to ensure they are in compliance with [Board of Regents] travel policies.”
Amanda Blanco can be reached at [email protected]
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