The best thing about the new audit of Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission is it didn’t find an excess of wasted taxpayer money. However, it did find an absence of controls in place to ensure money was not being wasted.
The Higher Education Coordinating Commission provides vision for the state’s higher education, authorizes postsecondary programs and degrees and also spends money. For instance, it had contracts worth $117 million from November 2016 to March 2017. The audit found HECC was inconsistent and out of compliance with contracting rules.
One specific example of problems is that for the November 2016 to March 2017 period, HECC began paying for work or work began for 65 percent of HECC’s agreements and contracts before there was even an agreement or contract in place. Another example is that a bid was awarded for a technology contract for $100,000 without going through a required bidding process.
It’s a relief state auditors didn’t find clearly wasted spending. But without strict controls, HECC left millions of dollars exposed to possible abuse. Remember that in 2003 in Deschutes County, former Sheriff Greg Brown was sentenced to 33 months in prison for embezzling about $575,000 from the sheriff’s office and the Sisters-Camp Sherman Rural Fire Protection District. Brown committed the crime, but an absence of controls in place gave him the ability to do it.
To HECC’s credit, Executive Director Ben Cannon and Commission Chairman Neil Bryant, wrote they “fully accept the audit’s recommendations.” Bryant is from Bend.
They noted in their response to the audit that management focused on filling HECC’s “extraordinary” backlog of agreements rather than establishing policies and procedures. That’s like saying HECC was going to spend the money first and worry about how it was spent later.