Read It: Audit Report Slams “Inappropriate Activities” at North Dakota State College of Science

North Dakota State College of Science President John Richman and North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani sign a memorandum of agreement to better serve the state's workforce needs Monday, June 18, at NDSU. David Samson / The Forum

“A performance audit issued today by the North Dakota Office of the State Auditor shows that North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) has engaged in inappropriate activities surrounding the proposed Career Workforce Academy, is not meeting TrainND Southeast program goals and is overstating program results,” a press release from North Dakota Auditor Josh Gallion states.

You can read the full report below. Among its findings are “an undisclosed conflict of interest” between Fargo City Commissioner (and former state lawmaker) Tony Grindberg, who works for NDSCS, and his wife’s company, the Flint Group, was was paid tens of thousands of dollars to development a strategic plan for the school.

The report also claims NDSCS attempted to hide information from auditors looking into the situation.

“NDSCS failed to provide the State Auditor’s Office with numerous emails relating to the procurement of this contract,” the press release says.

This timeline for the attempts by the auditor’s office to obtain information is depressing for what it says about the commitment to transparency and accountability at the NDSCS:

Not only was NDSCS not forthcoming with information requested by auditors, it appears they got caught lying.

For what it’s worth, back in 2012 I wrote pretty extensively about then-state Senator Grindberg’s employment as the director of the Technology and Research Park at North Dakota State where he was allowed to double-dip on his salary and expense personal luxuries like high-end booze and his country club membership. Since then Grindberg has left the legislature, and gotten himself elected to Fargo’s city government in addition to his job at NDSCS.

Anyway, as if the situation described above wasn’t bad enough, among other findings the audit report also says training events held through the TrainND program (NDSCS administers that program in the southeastern region of the state) were exaggerated.

Grossly, if this chart from the full audit report tells us anything:

The number of participants in these events was also inflated:

“The vast majority of the difference in fiscal years 2015-2017 is due to TrainND’s reports improperly including ApprenticeshipND information as previously mentioned,” the audit report states. The apprenticeship program is one developed by NDSCS, specifically. They were including those events in their TrainND reporting the fact that, per the auditor report, “its purpose differs from that of the enabling legislation for TrainND.”

That reporting problem was corrected in 2018, but there are still problems. “[I]n 2018 we still identified a difference of approximately 12% due to errors,” the auditors found.

“The activities we’ve discovered during our audit are concerning, and the report points to several changes that must be made by leadership at NDSCS to get back on track,” said State Auditor Joshua Gallion says in his press release. “Citizens should feel assured their tax dollars are used responsibly. That begins with integrity and transparency from the top down.”

The audit report contains a lengthy response to its findings from North Dakota  University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott. He agrees with every finding in the audit, but I’d recommend you read his responses for yourself in the report below as there is a lot of weaseling going on.

For instance, Hagerott precedes his responses with this language: “The North Dakota University System Office (NDUS Office) does not directly oversee the day-to-day operations on its campuses, and I do not have any way to meaningfully verify or controvert the factual findings set forth in the report based on information in the NDUS Office’s possession. As a result, I have largely confined my responses to your office’s recommendations in lieu of directly responding to the findings themselves.”

In other words, Hagerott is agreeing with the auditor’s recommendations, but he’s not conceding that the NDSCS actually did anything wrong despite the auditors finding that NDSCS violated multiple university system policies and potentially even state law.

Which is about par for the course for a guy who is on the record saying he doesn’t feel like he can be candid in public when reviewing the job performance of the state’s university presidents.

UPDATE: You can read NDSCS President John Richman’s response to the audit’s findings, submitted for tomorrow’s meeting of the State Board of Higher Education’s Audit Committee, right here. Unlike Hagerott, he doesn’t agree with any of the auditor’s findings, and disputes the conclusion that the NDSCS withheld information about Mr. Grindberg and the Flint Group.

Here’s the full Auditor’s Officereport:

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.

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