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The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, VA.)

THE SHEER number of problems uncovered by an audit at the state Department of Conservation and Recreation speaks to an alarming failure in the agency's culture and processes.

The Auditor of Public Accounts' examination of the state's parks department prompted 93 recommendations for changes, in areas ranging from credit-card use to employee housing to payroll and procurement to human resources to governance to the administration of tax credits.

The headline from the audit is that DCR owes $500,000 in sales taxes on concession sales at state parks. But the huge catalog of problems, first reported by The Virginian-Pilot's Julian Walker, is much more troubling than that.

Problems surfaced last summer, Walker wrote, as a grant program was transferred to another state agency. The scope of the administrative failures at DCR became clear after an audit began in February.

There is disagreement, even finger-pointing, about when the oversight failures began. That is itself disturbing.

"All these institutional problems didn't start in 2012; they started happening way before the last administration," said Jeb Wilkinson, who was appointed deputy director at the agency under Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The audit, released last week, uncovered misuse of state charge cards. There were problems with who had them, how they were used and with inadequate documentation. "Management did not appropriately monitor the Small Purchase Charge Card Program and allowed its policies and procedures manual to become out-dated."

If that sounds familiar, it might be because of the widely publicized allegations - from a 2005 audit - that officials in the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries had used state credit cards improperly a decade ago, including paying expenses for an African safari.

Game and Inland Fisheries and the Department of Conservation and Recreation are both under the jurisdiction of the cabinet secretary for Natural Resources.

That protocols at a sister agency would be broken just a few years later speaks to a disturbingly consistent lack of oversight.

DCR's current director, Clyde Cristman, promised action in response to the audit.

"Not only do we concur with all findings contained in the report, but as you know we have already begun taking action to correct many of the issues identified," he wrote in a letter to Martha S. Mavredes, the state's lead auditor.

Correcting procedures and record-keeping may not be enough. Preventing future problems will require more vigorous - and constant - attention.

June 17, 2014




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