Financial Management:

Census Monitoring Board Disbursements, Internal Control Weaknesses, and Other Matters

AIMD-00-317: Published: Sep 29, 2000. Publicly Released: Sep 29, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the financial management of the Census Monitoring Board (CMB), focusing on: (1) information on seven specific matters contained in congressional requests; (2) an audit relating to all CMB out-of-town travel disbursements and all other financial transactions over $200 from CMB's inception in June 1998 through March 31, 2000, which resulted in GAO auditing about 98 percent of the dollar value of total CMB disbursements; (3) CMB financial policies and practices, the internal control environments, and specific internal controls over disbursements, including those related to travel, personnel, and procurement of services; and (4) related-party transactions that met the criteria congressional members asked GAO to use.

GAO noted that: (1) it found little documented evidence to substantiate possible improprieties in connection with seven specific matters identified in congressional request letters: (a) no presidential CMB funds were used to print reports for the 1998 World Exposition; (b) congressional CMB videotapes did not have a narrow political distribution; (c) no CMB funds were used for political travel; (d) presidential CMB contracts for studies on census undercounting were not improperly procured; (e) no evidence existed that former congressional CMB employees accessed protected census data; (f) two out of 27 questions in a congressional CMB contractor focus group study made some mention of political parties; and (g) some verbal confrontation occurred between a congressional CMB contractor and Bureau of the Census employees, and the contract was terminated shortly thereafter for a variety of reasons; (2) GAO's remaining efforts focused on CMB support for expenditures and an assessment of the internal control environment established to ensure disciplined financial operations; (3) the majority of CMB disbursements were generally supported and related to official business; (4) however, GAO found a pattern of significant CMB internal control weaknesses related to travel, personnel, and the procurement of services, some of which resulted in inappropriate and wasteful practices; (5) weak internal controls allowed unreconciled payroll, benefits, and annual leave accounts, weak contract accounting, and disbursements without required approvals to pay; (6) some CMB policies were inconsistent with federal law; (7) while weaknesses related to travel, personnel, and procurement existed for both sides, the congressional and presidential CMB operated in substantially different internal control environments; (8) the congressional CMB made a considerable effort to establish an internal control environment; (9) the presidential CMB operations were primarily characterized by weak or unenforced policies, oral authorizations, and poor records management, largely due to a lack of administrative leadership; (10) GAO identified transactions involving prior business relationships among CMB officials, including employer/employee or contractor affiliations; (11) GAO found 13 congressional and 11 presidential CMB related-party relationships involving about $1 million in salaries and contracts for each side; and (12) GAO's disclosure of related-party relationships and transactions does not imply any improprieties.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: As part of future legislation establishing future boards and commissions, the Congress should consider including a provision that specifies whether the entity is to be covered by the employee financial disclosure provisions of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 and, if covered, the office to which the disclosure reports are to be submitted for review.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In May 2002, GAO provided house minority requestor staff with draft language for GAO to develop a best practices guide for temporary boards and commissions. House minority requestor staff indicated that they would try to obtain broader support from the Senate side and House majority staff for such a guide, and would then get back to us when and if they could obtain such support. We periodically checked with requestor staff regarding their progress in obtaining broader support from the Congress which they have been unable to do. Through March 31, 2005 we have not received a request to develop such a best practices guide.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: Both executive directors of CMB should reconcile CMB records of employee annual leave balances with the Government Printing Office (GPO) summary reports at least monthly.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 1, 2000, the Census Monitoring Board congressional side now reports leave balances to GPO every biweekly pay period and reconciles balances quarterly. The presidential side now maintains a daily log of employee leave and provides a daily written report to GPO to compare leave balances each pay period.

    Recommendation: Both executive directors of CMB should enforce Part 1 of the policy manual that official office hours apply to all employees unless an alternate work schedule is approved in advance by the executive directors.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Monitoring Board congressional side now requires all employees to complete bi-weekly time sheets with supervisors monitoring employee attendance. For the presidential side: (1) staff have been informed of the new office hour policy, (2) official office hours were changed, (3) alternative work schedules are now offered on a case by case basis, and (4) staff are required to call in to their supervisors if arriving more than 20 minutes late.

    Recommendation: The CMB Board should amend its holiday policy to conform with federal law by eliminating the two extra holidays.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 1, 2000, the board changed its holiday policy by eliminating the two extra holidays--one for Christmas Eve and the other for the day after Thanksgiving.

    Recommendation: The CMB Board should amend the unlimited sick leave policy to conform with federal law by providing that 4 hours accrue per biweekly pay period.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 1, 2000, the board changed its sick leave policy to conform to federal law retroactively to the date of the Census Monitoring Board inception.

    Recommendation: The presidential CMB executive director should enforce the joint travel policy requiring a written memo or CMB travel order for all travel, including written approval by the co-chairman for travel by anyone other than a board member, employee, or witness.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 1, 2000, all travel by presidential members, employees, witnesses, and consultants is now subject to prior written approval by the executive director. Additionally, the presidential Census Monitoring Board co-chairman must approve travel for anyone else in writing.

    Recommendation: The congressional CMB executive director should enforce the CMB joint travel policy on personal side travel.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective July 2000, the congressional Census Monitoring Board executive director began strict enforcement of the joint travel policy on personal side travel.

    Recommendation: Both executive directors should monitor government credit card usage and report delinquencies, as well as any personal use of the cards, to the co-chairmen as required by the joint travel policy.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 1, 2000, the congressional side of the Census Monitoring Board is monitoring employee usage of government credit cards on a monthly basis via online access to individual accounts. The presidential side of the Census Monitoring Board has requested that GPO provide monthly statements for monitoring purposes. Both sides pledge to take appropriate action as necessary.

    Recommendation: CMB Board should amend the travel policy to provide that travel promotion items, including frequent-flyer mileage, accrue exclusively to the government.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 1, 2000, the Census Monitoring Board changed its joint travel policy to provide that all travel promotional awards in connection with official travel accrue exclusively to the federal government, employees are to maintain a record of awards, and awards are to be used in a manner consistent with federal travel regulations.

    Recommendation: Both executive directors of CMB should instruct staff to record all leave taken.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective August 2000, both the Census Monitoring Board congressional side and presidential side corrected their records of employee leave including the recording of leave not previously reported, and also instructed employees in staff meetings to record all future leave taken.

    Recommendation: Both executive directors of CMB should reconcile CMB and GPO records on payroll and benefit costs on a regular basis.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 1, 2000, the CMB congressional side now reconciles its payroll costs monthly, and benefit costs at the end of fiscal year. The CMB presidential side now reconciles its payroll costs monthly, and plans to work with GPO to reconcile benefit costs at the end of fiscal year 2001.

    Recommendation: Both executive directors of CMB should prepare performance evaluations for all employees at least annually.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 1, 2000, department heads for the CMB congressional side prepared annual performance evaluations for each employee. The CMB presidential side completed performance reviews for all employees in December 2000, and has planned reviews in September 2001, before the board's existence is scheduled to terminate.

    Recommendation: The presidential CMB executive director should maintain a record of authorized financial disbursement sent to GPO for payment and reconcile authorized payments with GPO disbursements monthly.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: By December 2000, the presidential CMB finance director reviews its financial records with GPO monthly. It also plans to engage an outside accounting firm during 2001, for assistance in maintaining internal controls and recordkeeping.

    Recommendation: The presidential CMB executive director should improve CMB records management system to maintain adequate support for personnel, contract, and disbursement activities.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: By December 2000, the presidential CMB reorganized its internal records system and files, and its finance director reviews its financial records with GPO monthly. It also plans to engage an outside accounting firm during 2001, for assistance in maintaining internal controls and recordkeeping.

    Recommendation: The CMB executive directors, to the extent practicable and cost beneficial should: (1) correct leave balances; (2) recover personal charges for telephone usage; and (3) recover missing property.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2000, both the CMB congressional side and presidential side corrected their records of employee leave including the recording of leave not previously reported. It was not practical to recover personal charges for telephone usage because prior to the GAO review, the CMB did not have a policy governing personal usage particularly for cell phones. In addition, it was not practical to recover missing property because the missing property had been reported lost and was not recovered even after numerous searches by the CMB.

    Recommendation: The presidential CMB executive director should improve accountability over property by maintaining accurate records of equipment by GPO property tag and serial number, having all employees sign for equipment such as laptop computers, cell phones, and Palm Pilots, and conducting periodic physical inventories.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The CMB presidential side completed a physical inventory of property in January 2001, and plans to conduct random physical checks and compare them to book records on a quarterly basis.

    Recommendation: Both executive directors should evaluate office telecommunications use and adopt a written policy on cell phone use.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 1, 2000, both sides have adopted the telecommunication policy in the Federal Employees Almanac. The congressional side now reviews monthly each employee's phone activity for unauthorized use and any reimbursement. The presidential side has reviewed its cell phone usage, cancelled a number of employee cell phone accounts, and starting with the December 26, 2000 billing cycle, has adopted a 650-minute monthly plan for all employees with cell phones with personal reimbursement required over that limit.

    Recommendation: Both executive directors should adhere to CMB written procurement policies on approval of purchases and payments over established dollar limits.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 1, 2000, the congressional side of CMB amended its approval process to have an additional staff member review purchase orders to prevent errors. Also effective October 1, 2000, the presidential side of CMB agreed to strictly enforce all aspects of its written procurement policy, including approvals.

    Recommendation: Both executive directors should improve contract accounting to require that contracts are promptly written, contract activity is monitored, and contracts are modified before contract amounts or dates are exceeded.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 1, 2000, the congressional side of CMB regularly monitors all outstanding contracts, and each contract is reviewed by the comptroller and in-house counsel to ensure that contract amounts and dates are not exceeded. Also effective October 1, 2000, the presidential side of CMB conducted a review and changed its contracts and plans to regularly monitor and adjust terms as needed in advance.

    Recommendation: The presidential CMB executive director should review sick leave and other leave taken to ensure that extensive use of sick leave is appropriate and documented.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 1, 2000, the presidential CMB began enforcement of the joint CMB sick leave policy including the requirement that doctors' notices be provided upon request, and leave without pay be attributed if an employee's leave balance is insufficient to cover absences.

    Recommendation: CMB Board should augment the joint travel policy to address the use of travel advances and specify that requests for travel reimbursements are to be submitted within a certain number of days after the trip is completed.

    Agency Affected: Census Monitoring Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 1, 2000, the Census Monitoring Board changed its joint travel policy to require that travel advances must be reconciled no later than 30 days after receipt or 5 business days after returning from official travel, whichever is sooner. Also, the policy now states that travel reimbursements are to be submitted within 5 business days of returning from a trip.

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