EXCLUSIVE: $200K UH accounting error focus of new investigation

EXCLUSIVE: $200K UH accounting error focus of new investigation
Published: Oct. 11, 2012 at 9:50 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 12, 2012 at 6:27 PM HST
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KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A University of Hawaii employee is on leave and a fact finding investigation is under way after a $200,000 accounting error in a payroll account at the school's Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay.

The money has since been located, but UH sources said it's a mistake that should never have happened.

While there are some factual similarities between this story and the Stevie Wonder blunder, there is one major important difference: the money involved has been located and has not been stolen. But UH sources said it's another example of sloppy accounting at the university.

UH's Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology receives millions of dollars in federal grants every year for research on coral reefs, dolphins, sharks and more.

Sources tell Hawaii News Now a UH fiscal officer is on paid leave, under investigation for the $200,000 accounting error in a temporary payroll account.

UH routinely fronts some payroll costs for its professors, researchers and staff in the brief time between the end of one federal grant and the beginning of another and then reimburses the UH when the next grant comes through.  Officials described this operation as similar to a bridge loan, with the money coming from the UH's Research and Training Revolving Fund, known as RTRF.

In this case, UH fronted about $200,000 in salary money to cover payroll in between grants, but a fiscal officer never reimbursed the UH for the money from the new grant when it started, sources said.

UH officials who oversee Coconut Island are furious and they've told colleagues the error should have been caught immediately and should never have happened.

Sources said the UH's new Kuali Financial System, which went online at all ten UH campuses July 1, detected the error.

In a written statement released through a spokeswoman in the chancellor's office, UH Manoa Vice Chancellor for Administration Kathy Cutshaw said, "It was discovered in the transition to the new online accounting systems that $200,000 of prior years' payroll expenses had not been recorded in the appropriate accounts.  This accounting error is being corrected."

But UH officials did not answer other basic questions, such as what type of program or programs the money was for and what federal agency or other entity the funds came from.

UH officials emphasize that no Coconut Island research programs were interrupted because of the error, all of the accounts are being reconciled and there is no money missing.

The employee responsible for the oversight could face discipline pending the outcome of a UH personnel investigation, a source said.

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