Now that tax season is winding down, I’ll share an experience that will make federal tax forms look like a walk in park.
I’m a lab manager at a state university. Part of my job is to order supplies and keep track of the grant money coming in and going out. Since I have access to the U’s labyrinthine financial system, I have to keep up to date on changes in the system and new policies. For ease and a person to talk to, I re-take the finance and procurement classes offered by the Controller’s office every few months. It is very dry and boring 16 hours, but it gives me an insight to what’s appropriate.
Some headaches our system causes:
I’m personally liable for any mistakes. If I don’t follow the correct rules, I have to pay for the item out of my pocket. (In research, nothing is cheap. This is very scary.)
The U has 115 fiscal policies. The National Institute of Health and other groups that award grants have their own rules about how the money should be used. Also, certain terms have different definitions depending on the organization. (For example, the meaning of “stipend” differs between the NIH and the U. It caused us a lot of trouble a few months ago.)
The U takes 54% of every grant to cover “facilities and administration” – F&A for short. (or Fucking A, since that’s what my boss said when I first explained this to him.) F&A is not taken as one big chunk, but take out a little each day. This makes calculating how much money you have available very tough.
In the five years I’ve worked here, we have moved from a Citrix based accounting system to a PeopleSoft program. Currently, some of our files are being moved to a Cognos system. (Controller instructor: You have to admit that PeopleSoft is much better than Citrix. Me: That’s kinda like comparing cyanide and arsenic.)
The biggest headache: My boss doesn’t know how any of this works and refuses to learn. He just throws a tantrum when I can’t order something right away or if I can’t explain where our money is going.
sigh No one told me that an accounting degree was needed to do medical research.
How can this be? This cannot possibly be legal, especially at a state university. I’d bring up that policy to higher ups and ask them why this policy makes sense. People make mistakes all the time at work and I’ve never heard of anyone being held liable except for the waiter whose customer pulls a runner. Even then, this is probably illegal.
I’m not sure. The person explained that this only happened if “you fragrantly ignore the rules.” My worry is that there are so many policies that it could look like the rules were ignored when you thought that everything was ok.
An example: My lab moved last month. The university-contracted vendors dropped off boxes a week before the move date. The boxes were broken down and the movers told me “Sorry, we’re out of packing tape.” I could order packing tape from the state-contracted office supply place, but it would take a day or two to get the tape and it may seem unnecessary since the movers are supposed to provide the all moving supplies. Rather than risk the Controller, I spent my own $20 on tape at Wal-Mart.
To give mouse some credit, a whole lot of people call whatever application is running on the Citrix servers “Citrix” - almost as annoying as “The AS/400” - another well known application that isn’t an application. We also have a ton of applications known as “the Notes database.” And my personal favorite - I need access to the P: drive (we have 100 TB of data spread across over the world on over a thousand servers, can you be a little more specific about what you mean by P: drive?)
(One of my huge headaches in life is translating userspeak into techspeak and techspeak into userspeak - if all the end users call it “Citrix” you’d better make sure your helpdesk knows its called “Citrix” - and if you have more than one Citrix app, you are going to need a dialog tree to figure out what in the hell the end users are talking about - cause they aren’t changing - they see the Citrix logo when they click - its Citrix, by gum!).
The whole damn thing. I’m training to get access to other parts of the system. My responsibilies have expanded since the department administrator has left. Now I need to learn how to be an accountant. Before now, all I had to do was check our grant balances every now and again.
I’m posting a rant and signing off before the men in white coats come and get me.