Monday, February 05, 2007

Details, Details, Details!!!

In my post "The Tale of Two Dogs" I noted the distinct styles of UPUA President Jay Chamberlin and UGA President Nick Sathes. When it came to divulging details of the Penn State budget. Jay agreed with Graham that there is no need to change since Penn State is already perfect. He then rolled over onto his back in an attempt to have his stomach scratched by the prexy. Nick simply snarled at Graham that the University's failure to come clean on the budget was costing Penn State support from the state legislature. Clearly, I admire Nick's approach to dealing with Old Main, but I don't agree with either his or Jay's reasoning behind their differing opinions.

First off, Nick said that ,"Legislators have told me it's difficult to allocate more money to Penn State because it's difficult for their constituents to scrutinize the budget." Nick, if that is what you are being told by Legislators then they aren't being straight with you. If the legislators wanted Penn State to completely open their budget, then all they need to do is rewrite the open record laws to cover state-related universities. That is within their power. So Nick the next time someone in Harrisburg tells you that Penn State isn't getting more dough because they don't reveal enough of their budget, ask them why they haven't amended the open record law. As an aside, the legislature has some openness issues of their own to deal with. The latest is the bonus scandal which came to light last week.

Next up is Jay, who seems to think that he already knows enough about the Penn State budget.

Chamberlin agreed, saying the online budget gives a broad impression of the university's finances. "You can get a pretty general idea of what Penn State is spending its money on," he said. Although, he added, "you don't get to see how much a department is spending on pencils."

That comment about pencils was so cute. It gives the impression that people who want to know more about Penn State's budget are only interested in trivial details. Jay, Jay, Jay, haven't you heard that the devil is in the details?

Jay, do you have any idea how much office supplies cost the University? Nope neither do I. What I was able to find out is that in 2001-2002 the University spent 28% of its operating budget on" telecommunications, office supplies, travel expenses, maintenance and equipment." The University operating budget this year is $3.05 billion that means, if we assume that the proportion hasn't changed, that Penn State spent $853 million on these items. Certainly office supplies would not be the largest part of that latter number, but I think that it is fair to say that the amount spent on office supplies would run up into the several million. This is hardly a trivial detail.

Is the University overspending on office supplies? The online budget doesn't give you enough information to answer this question. I was able to find out that Boise Office Solutions has received a competitive contract from the University for office supplies. Generally, competitive bidding is a good way to make sure that one gets the best possible price on something, but this isn't always the case. How many companies bid for the contract and was Boise Office Solutions the lowest bidder? Again, these questions are unanswered in the University budget. The bottomline is you have to trust Old Main that they aren't overspending on office supplies. I frankly don't trust Spanier the bullshit artist.

In my next post I will look at a case where the lack of sunshine in Old Main very likely obscured the co-opting of Cynthia Baldwin the former Chair of the Board of Trustees.

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