Audit: VA community college spends $1.3 million on sketchy contracts

OOPS: Northern Virginia Community College paid about $1.3 million in contracts to a firm that didn’t follow through.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — At least one of Virginia’s 23 community colleges has some serious shaping up to do, a recent state audit revealed.

Northern Virginia Community College paid $1.3 million in hourly rates of up to $290 to a firm it didn’t even hold accountable to make good on its contracts, an audit from the state’s Auditor of Public Accounts on the community college system reveals.

“We did have a couple of findings this year that actually led us to potential waste where funds maybe could have been spent in a better manner,” said Zachary Borgerding, audit director over reporting and standards.

Northern Virginia Community College, which has multiple campuses throughout the suburbs of Washington, D.C., entered into seven contracts totaling $1.3 million to the major consulting firm ARCADIS for architectural and engineering consulting, but used the firm to manage noncapital projects in a way the audit said went beyond the parameters of community college policy. Specifically, the college paid ARCADIS’ water division, Malcolm Pirnie, which was a separate company until ARCADIS acquired it in 2009, according to Borgerding.

The school didn’t bat an eye at paying ARCADIS hourly rates ranging $133 to $290 an hour at one point, “significantly higher than benchmark firms performing similar work at NVCC,” the audit said. NVCC didn’t assign an administrator to review contracts, and invoices were approved for payment without any review as to whether the firm had actually made good on its contract.

On top of that, Arcadis was supposed to submit weekly reports summarizing activity for the week, but didn’t — for at least two years.

“More than likely (that) did result in some manner of waste,” Borgerding said.

NVCC employees were less than impressed.

“NVCC employees acknowledged that the firm did not spend significant time at NVCC and expressed doubts that the firm was satisfactorily performing work as described in the project order’s scope of service,” the audit says. “The fact that NVCC did not receive contract deliverables for over two years gives additional weight to the concern that funds may have been wasted.”

NVCC said in its response to the audit it’s beefing up staff in attempts to fix the contract problems it’s had.

In another noteworthy finding, Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg “improperly” offered severance pay on top of years of service credit to an employee who opted to retire after that employee’s position was eliminated. In a nutshell, the college overpaid the employee by up to $105,000.

The college now says it has created a “severance process” that includes an employee data-layoff spreadsheet.

The full report is online here.

— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org, and can be found on Twitter @kathrynw5.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

Top