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U.S. Comission on Civil Rights: Deficiencies Found in Financial Management and Internal Controls.

GAO-05-68R March 7, 2005

The United States Commission on Civil Rights (Commission) was first established in 1957 as the Commission on Civil Rights. The Commission's life was extended in 1983 and reestablished again in 1994 with its current name. The Commission's purpose is to collect and study information on discrimination or denials of equal protection of the laws because of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice in such areas as voting rights, enforcement of federal civil rights laws, and equal opportunity in education, employment, and housing. The Commission has been subject to long-standing congressional concerns over the adequacy of its management practices and procedures, concerns that were reinforced by several GAO reports. In July 1997, we issued a report in which we found broad management problems at the Commission, including limited awareness of how its resources were used. In more recent studies, we found that the Commission lacked good project management and transparency in its contracting procedures and needed improved strategic planning. As a result of these reports and other concerns, we conducted additional work at the Commission. Specifically, Congress asked us to determine whether (1) the Commission's financial transactions (receipts, obligations, and expenditures) for the fiscal year ended September 30, 2003, were properly authorized, approved, and supported and (2) the Commission had effective internal controls over financial transactions and reporting. Congress also asked us to review the manner in which the Commission addressed its budget priorities.

Our tests of the Commission's fiscal year 2003 financial transactions identified substantial deficiencies in the underlying support for a significant level of its expenditures. Specifically, while our tests of $5.3 million of payroll transactions found them to be substantially correct, our tests of $4.9 million of nonpayroll-related transactions, including travel and procurement, found serious deficiencies in the supporting documentation underlying these transactions. These deficiencies precluded us from being able to determine whether as much as 18 percent of the statistically tested nonpayroll-related transactions of the Commission for fiscal year 2003 were valid. Our review of the Commission's internal controls over nonpayroll financial transactions and financial reporting identified fundamental weaknesses in internal controls. We found that the Commission lacked a formal comprehensive set of policies and procedures governing its financial management practices. We also identified serious deficiencies in the Commission's maintenance of financial records, enforcement of travel regulations, adherence to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) regarding the ordering process for contracted services from commercial vendors, adherence to provisions of the Prompt Payment Act, monitoring of budgetary resources, and cost accumulation and reporting. These deficiencies stemmed from a weak overall control environment, which led to BPD's decision to discontinue providing accounting services for the Commission after fiscal year 2003, citing inadequate management oversight and control. This weak control environment increases the risk of abuse of the Commission's financial resources. Our review of the manner in which the Commission addressed its budget priorities found that the Commission was unable to provide evidence of how its fiscal year 2003 budgetary resources were used to fulfill its statutory duties and to achieve the six goals listed in its fiscal year 2003 annual performance plan. Further, we could not determine how the Commission planned, communicated, and prioritized its budgetary resources, which makes it difficult for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Congress to understand whether the Commission is using its financial resources to achieve its mission and goals. Given the long-standing congressional concerns over the Commission's management priorities, we believe the Commission could enhance the transparency of its budgetary, financial, and operational activities.
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Publication:General Accounting Office Reports & Testimony
Date:May 1, 2005
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