Umsl Won't Release Audit of Research Centers

Article excerpt

A second internal audit has been completed of the Public Policy Research Centers at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. This time, copies are hard to find.

In an audit in May, problems were found in the handling of three of the Centers' contracts. The auditor said the organization needed better fiscal planning and direction.

A source at UMSL gave us a copy of that audit. Bob Samples, the school's director of communications, told us that the audits are not public, and declined to give us a copy of the latest audit.

"Neither revealed any significant findings," Samples said. "It was mostly record keeping, data sheets, that type of thing."

But careful record keeping is exactly the point when it comes to handling research grants. UMSL Professor Fred Springer was involved with the Centers for three years until he took a leave last summer to handle a major research project for the federal government.

"You need to monitor these grants closely," Springer told us.

In a report on a $222,831 contract between the Centers and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority - in which federal funds were used to study an anti-drug effort in East St. Louis - the auditor found that the Centers kept no time sheets to document hours spent on the job.

Although the director of the Centers, Professor Lance T. LeLoup, was in Hungary for several months beginning Jan. 1, 1995, some of his time was included in the January and February billings to the Illinois agency, the auditor found.

That May audit, Samples said, was requested by Chancellor Blanche Touhill after she was told of dissatisfaction with the Centers' performance on an assignment from Brandeis University for the St. Louis Jewish Federation.

"The ultimate result was everybody was satisfied," Samples said. But Brandeis withheld $20,000 of the $50,000 contract amount because of lengthy time delays, according to the audit. Extra costs incurred on the job had to be paid from other UMSL accounts.

That research project was one, among others, Springer said, on which LeLoup was listed as "principal investigator," "but did not know what was going on."

LeLoup did not return calls for this column. Samples returned one call that we made to LeLoup. But in response to a later question, he said he wa s speaking for UMSL, not for LeLoup.

LeLoup has been the only director of the Centers since the organization was formed in the early 1990s in a consolidation of several public-policy-related programs at UMSL. His salary is listed in the Missouri government manual at $80,517 a year.

Springer is worried that leadership problems could threaten what he sees as the Centers' vital mission. As the federal government turns more programs over to state and local governments, he said, public universities have an even greater role to play in researching issues of public policy at local and regional levels.

The Centers had built a strong staff, Springer said, and provided "marvelous opportunities" for graduate students in political science and public policy administration.

"All of that over the last nine months has essentially evaporated," he said. "It's like a ghost town now."

Last year the Centers had as many as 10 graduate students doing research. Now that's down to two.

"The competent staff who were bringing grants into the Centers left," Springer said. "So there's no money coming in."

The Centers added a lot to the university, he said. …