BY WATCHING ADAMS STAFF – 11/9/15
During discussion about the increasing costs students face to attend ASU, a number of staff and faculty have called into question how much money is spent on ASU sports teams traveling to events – such as a $20,000 travel request for a single football game held on 10/24/15 in the distant state of… New Mexico.
So how much does ASU spend on travel requests in a single year? A simple question, one would think, but apparently not. According to Tracy Rogers, Director of HR, ASU will charge inquirers more than $2,600 for retrieval of this public information.
The Colorado Open Records Act request was placed on October 13th, asking for “itemized department/program travel activities and the cost[s] associated with each trip” and “spreadsheet summaries and/or other documentation of the travel requests made during 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15 academic years.”
Usual business practice would suggest that these expenses are accounted in an Excel spreadsheet so that expenditure can be reconciled against departmental budgets – and are therefore instantly searchable. But apparently not at ASU.
Tracy Rogers has said that, “we do not have a summary document of all travel requests… What is available is a copy of each travel request. However these requests are not in a centralized or isolated location.”
Rogers estimates that there are about 1,800 requests per year, and to retrieve three years will take about 40 hours or more of someone’s time at a cost of $30 per hour – which comes to about $1,200. On top of that are copying charges of about $1,350 or more, plus the cost of mailing over 5,000 sheets of paper. In all, that comes to somewhere around $2,600.
One imagines ASU HR rummaging through shoe boxes of paper slips at the cost to taxpayers of $30 hourly, candle in one hand and quill in the other, entering travel costs into a leather-bound accounts ledger. If so, then it’s time ASU HR department entered the 21st century and purchase a computer and software to compile these slips of paper into a few spreadsheets for public review.
The request is for public information about the expenditure of public funds on students at a public university – which is paid for by state tax payers. Now ASU HR wants to charge the taxpayer twice – once to charge individual tax payers for information they have a right to see, and again for the “research and retrieval” of data that should already be readily-available.
Or perhaps this is simply a passive-aggressive effort designed to discourage scrutiny of the university’s finances, similar to the attempted ID trap for access to CUPA data. Rogers likely knows that no one is interested in over 5,000 sheets of hand-written travel requests, but rather the spreadsheet that tabulates these expenses by budget code and records the activity.
So here’s a positive solution. Why not have ASU HR hand over the shoe box and private citizens can do the search? They can input the data into Excel and return it to ASU at no cost, then all tax payers can have access to this important public information.