History Colorado's employee credit card use questioned in state audit; org president defends

DENVER - History Colorado's use of employee credit cards meant for official functions is questioned in a newly posted state audit.

The audit is dated June 15, but was posted to the Office of the State Auditor's website Tuesday after a scheduled hearing. It found that History Colorado spent about $1 million for expenses classified as official functions from 2009 through 2014. But auditors noted that about half of the transactions in that category were for amounts less than or equal to $50, often for individual coffees or lunches.

According to the audit, the transactions included frequent charges for "a single lunch or a single cup of coffee at places like Quiznos, Noodles and Company, the History Colorado Center concessionaire, Panera Bread, or Starbucks."

"History Colorado charged significantly larger amounts of expenditures to official functions relative to the amounts charged by other State entities of comparable size," the document states.

Sixty percent of the organization's employees have a procurement card and the audit found many have the cards despite occupying jobs that do not require them to make purchases.

History Colorado is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that maintains museums and historical sites around the state. The agency also preserves and exhibits collections of historical significance. Most of the group's funding comes from state cash funds, including gaming revenue.

The audit also found problems with transactions on employee credit-cards including missing approver signatures, missing documentation, lack of timely monthly statement reconciliations and incorrect charging of alcoholic beverages.

"We're working to meet the issues that were raised in the audit," said Ed Nichols, CEO and President of History Colorado.

Nichols said the issue was one of accounting, not misuse of public funds.

"It's an issue of coding and the accounting, not the use of funds. It's not a question of mal-intent or fraud or the misuse of funds but rather the way that those funds were coded and accounted for," Nichols said.

Nichols said they're working to implement controls on employee credit-card use. That includes the hiring of a new Controller earlier this year with 18-years of experience, who is employing new policy manuals and training.

"We're working very diligently to ensure that the policies regarding the official function or any other type of coding are up to standard," Nichols said.

The audit also found that grant funding for historic preservation projects has dropped dramatically since 2003, mostly due to legislation that has diverted money for other things, including restoration of the state Capitol dome.

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