NEWS

Expense totals drop for Board of Regents consultant

Deloitte reimbursement requests lower in first month requiring receipts

IOWA CITY — In the three weeks from March 29 to April 19, a consulting firm hired by the Board of Regents to conduct an efficiency review of Iowa’s public universities incurred $99,716 in expenses for things like airfare, lodging, and meals.

In the following month’s time, from April 20 to May 24, the firm submitted for reimbursement $120,557 to the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa.

In total, Deloitte Consulting LLC expensed $366,657 to the universities for charges incurred between March and Aug. 10 — none of which were supplemented with receipts. From Aug. 11 to Aug. 30 — after the Board of Regents began requiring receipts — Deloitte’s expenses totaled $11,153, according to newly-released documents.

That’s nine to 10 times less than the amounts Deloitte expensed to the universities during similar time periods in March and April. And, one expert said, it could speak to the rationale behind requiring expense receipts.

“Having policies in place absolutely can change behavior,” said Michael Stutzman, an adjunct lecturer for the UI Henry B. Tippie College of Business who also works in human resources for Rockwell Collins. “It can be hard to draw a personal connection to the company’s money. It’s not your own.”

Deloitte didn’t directly answer questions from The Gazette, but firm representatives told the Board of Regents Office said that earlier in the project they front-loaded plane ticket purchases for anticipated trips in the future.

“For a while they knew they were going to be coming week to week,” said Jeneane Beck, spokeswoman for the regents’ efficiency review. “So they purchased the tickets earlier.”

The Board of Regents in August agreed to slow down the academic portion of its efficiency study to accommodate faculty concerns, but that decision mostly affected plans for subsequent months. And board officials throughout August continued to provide weekly updates about Deloitte’s work with university and board office stakeholders.

Deloitte has told the board that mandating expense receipts wouldn’t affect its spending practices, Beck said.

“They told the Board of Regents that they always have been frugal,” she said.

The Board of Regents in October amended its contract with Deloitte to require receipts for travel and lodging expenses after The Gazette in August reported it wasn’t already doing so.

The new contract is retroactive only to Aug. 11 — meaning the board won’t get receipts for the more than $366,000 charged before that date. The new contract requires receipts for airfare, rental cars, taxi or shuttle services, lodging and printing — meaning receipts are not required for meals, telecommunications, and miscellaneous charges.

The new contract does include more strict guidelines on what can be expensed, including specifications of no more than $8 for breakfast, $12 for lunch, and $20 for dinner. So far, Deloitte has only provided receipts for the month of August, but Board of Regents officials said they expect batches for September and October to come later.

A Gazette review of the August receipts show an apparent effort to keep costs down. In some cases, travelers only charged the universities for a portion of their air travel or cab fare.

Deloitte employee Andrew Garcia, for example, wrote on one of his receipts that he was only expensing $31 of his $67 taxi ride “to reflect average taxi charge from airport to residence.” Some plane tickets weren’t expensed to the universities in full if, for example, one leg of the trip involved unrelated work, Beck said.

“We wouldn’t be billed for the whole thing because it wasn’t all for us,” she said.

According to the receipts, hotel rates expensed by Deloitte ranged from about $122 a night at the Sheraton to about $217 at the Renaissance. The Deloitte employee who expensed the most charges for August requested $1,605 in reimbursements, including nearly $1,000 in travel costs and about $200 for food.

State lawmakers have criticized the board for not requiring receipts from the beginning. UI lecturer Stutzman said it’s customary for most companies and institutions to require receipts for at least some expenses — although, he said, it’s important to strike a balance.

“You don’t want employees to feel too controlled or that you don’t trust them,” he said. “And the vast majority of employees are very responsible and understand that it’s a personal responsibility.”

To help eliminate the temptation to spend more than necessary and to manage costs, some companies — like Rockwell Collins — use travel software to help employees find the best deals.

“The system almost does it for me — in terms of finding flights and a hotel,” Stutzman said, adding that employees can make different selections, but they have to justify them.

“If I want to stay at the Ritz, I have to explain why when there’s a perfectly good Marriot next door.

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