A new legislative audit criticizes the Utah Science, Technology and Research Initiative for poor financial management. But a University of Utah official says the school has followed the rules with its U-STAR partnership.
The Utah legislature created USTAR in 2006 as a way to bolster research and economic development. Since then it’s received 134-million dollars in state funding along with 166-million for buildings at the University of Utah and Utah State University. At a legislative committee hearing yesterday, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said it appears the universities weren’t keeping USTAR programs properly separated from their own.
Responding to the audit report, Niederhauser told the committee, “It just seems that there’s been such a co-mingling at the two universities and USTAR and no clear, no leases, no clear demarcations between what USTAR was supposed to do and what the research universities were going to do.”
Tom Parks, the University of Utah’s Vice-President for Research, pointed out that none of the audit’s findings were aimed at the universities.
“There were no criticisms or no recommendations or comments about the universities. I think we’ve spent the money in accordance with budgets, approved budgets from USTAR and we’ve provided accurate, complete data on everything that USTAR’s asked us for.”
Parks says the university is in the process of negotiating a lease for the U-STAR building. He says the partnership with USTAR has allowed the U to hire more than 30 top-flight researchers from around the country.
USTAR management blamed some of the problems on high turnover in its financial manager position. It has accepted all 15 of the audit's recommendations and promised to institute stricter controls.