News Column

Little Progress on Audit of High-priced IT System

Jan 30, 2013

Robert Zullo

An audit requested by the Richmond City Council of an $18 million information-technology system project has struggled to get off the ground because city officials have dragged their feet in providing necessary access to the system and interviews with workers, the city auditor said.

At a meeting of the council's Audit Committee on Tuesday, City Auditor Umesh Dalal said his auditors had been unable to get access to information, people and the system itself "in a timely manner."

In May, the council requested the audit of the Enterprise Resource Planning system -- which will handle payroll, personnel, finance, inventory and asset management functions -- after a contractor working on the job alleged it was being mismanaged and that the delays will cost the city millions.

The city launched the project in 2010 and it was initially scheduled to be completed in October, though the "go-live" date was pushed back to July of this year to work out lingering problems.

"It's frustrating," said Council President Charles R. Samuels, a new member of the audit committee who also led the push for the audit last year. "I did not have any idea it would take this long. I thought it would be done by now."

Dalal said his auditors have been unable to obtain system manuals, get appropriate access to the system and have been told that requests to interview employees must go through the project manager.

"We know who we want to interview. We should be able to select any individual and interview them individually," he said. "This is the reason why this audit has been delayed substantially. ... We need administration cooperation to finish this audit."

Sharon Judkins, the deputy chief administrative officer of finance and administration, has taken over the project since she was hired in March.

She said the delays were the result of concerns over granting the auditors access to confidential employee information, though after discussing the matter with the city's legal department, her staff has since complied with the requests.

"From our perspective, we have a responsibility to protect our employees' information," she told the committee.

Dalal said the auditor's office has access to all those records according to the city charter, adding that his work has been stymied by "stalling tactics" from the administration, including meetings that were postponed for weeks and documentation that has not been supplied.

Judkins says the RAPIDS project is on target and denied that anyone was intentionally stalling the audit, though she noted that she told council members the audit could delay the implementation of the system.

"There's no reason for us to delay," she said, adding that she welcomed the review of the project. "Audits are fine."

The committee also reviewed the results of an audit into the city's Department of Animal Care and Control, which was lauded for documentation of its expenditures, euthanasia procedures, adoption paperwork and advertising of available animals.

However, the auditors found that the agency is giving up potentially thousands of dollars a year in pet license fees. City code requires a $10-a-year license fee, and the auditor estimated that there are 90,000 dogs and cats in the city. Yet the city collected just $13,000 in pet license fees from November 2011 to October 2012, the auditors found.

The audit also said the office is struggling to respond quickly to the majority of citizen complaints, that some overtime hours reported by field officers were not properly approved and that a failure to make deposits weekly in accordance with city policy resulted in large amounts of cash being left at the office.

A $48,658 deposit was made on March 21, covering the period from Aug. 11, 2011, to March 1, 2012. Though the deposit amount was determined to be "reasonable," the report said that "money held at the shelter for an extended period is subject to the threat of theft or misuse and reduces the interest earned."

Chuck Marchant, the acting Animal Care and Control Department operations manager, acknowledged the deficiencies and said the new department, which was made its own agency last year by City Council, needs to improve its record keeping and procedures.


Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Source: (c) 2013 the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.)

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