|Actually, sometimes emails come back to bite|
Emails raise questions about Napolitano’s testimony on audit
By Nanette Asimov
May 3, 2017 San Francisco Chronicle
The office of University of California President Janet Napolitano directed administrators at UC campuses to reveal their confidential responses to a state auditor’s survey, according to emails obtained Wednesday by The Chronicle that call into question the accuracy of Napolitano’s testimony to state lawmakers about why her office interfered with the probe.
Napolitano testified Tuesday that her staff reviewed responses only after campuses asked for help in understanding complicated survey questions from state Auditor Elaine Howle as part of her audit of the UC president’s office. That audit concluded that Napolitano’s office had accumulated $175 million in secret funds, including $32 million that could have been spent on students.
One email shows that a UCSF administrator suggested after receiving the audit survey in October that Napolitano’s office convene a systemwide conference call “to make sure that we are consistent in terms of info we are providing.” Nothing in the email asked Napolitano’s office to review the responses — and the letter from the state auditor explicitly told campus officials to keep their responses confidential and not to share “with others outside of your campus.”
But numerous emails between Napolitano’s staff and officials at several of UC’s 10 campuses show that the president’s office did far more than provide initial guidance. The emails show that campus officials arranged to show their responses to Napolitano’s staff “as requested.” They show her staff “checking in” with campuses to see when they could see their responses. And they show campus officials apologizing in cases where they sent their responses to the auditor before showing them to Napolitano’s staff. In one such case, UC Santa Cruz pulled its responses back from the auditor — apparently at Napolitano’s request.
“Per your conversation with (campus) Chancellor earlier today, we have already started the recall process of the State Audit Survey,” Ashish Sahni, a UC Santa Cruz associate chancellor, told Napolitano in a November email copied to the president’s top staff members and to campus Chancellor George Blumenthal.
Despite that email, Napolitano told lawmakers Tuesday that she did not order campuses that had already sent survey responses to the state auditor to pull them back for UC review. Sahni declined to comment Wednesday when reached by The Chronicle.
In another November email, UC Irvine Associate Chancellor Michael Arias sent a survey response to Napolitano’s deputy chief of staff, Bernie Jones. “Hopefully it is OK, because (a colleague) sent it to Sacramento already,” Arias wrote. “I apologize again, but I somehow thought you folks were only concerned with the larger survey.”
Napolitano apologized to lawmakers for her office’s handling of the survey responses. She said it happened when “some on the campuses reached out to (her office) with questions and a request for help with coordinating the responses.” She also emphasized several times that she “wasn’t involved in the day-to-day, back and forth of the surveys.”
The auditor’s two-part survey, which records show was marked confidential, was sent to campuses to uncover any costly duplication of work between them and the president’s office. The audit was ordered by lawmakers concerned about increased spending by the office and found, among other problems, that Napolitano’s office kept $175 million in secret funds and that its accounting practices were a mess.
But the auditor threw out the campus responses because the president’s office not only had seen them before they were given to the auditor, but had caused several of the answers to be changed — some reflecting a more positive view of UC leadership, Howle said.
In her testimony, Napolitano disputed Howle’s assertion that her office’s participation was “a process that was designed to make (the president’s office) look good. It was designed to coordinate the collection and transmission of accurate information.”
State lawmakers on three budget and higher education committees held a joint hearing this week to learn more about Howle’s scathing audit of Napolitano’s office and its $686 million annual budget.
Several lawmakers expressed dismay at what they called tampering by the president’s staff in the confidential survey process. Some said it reduced their confidence in UC, and others asked if it rose to a criminal level — to which Howle replied that she didn’t know because she isn’t an attorney. But in her 17 years as auditor, she said, she hadn’t seen “interference” of this kind.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Napolitano said the president’s testimony was accurate.
The president’s office learned of the surveys “when several campus directors called and asked for help,” said the spokeswoman, Dianne Klein. “The task was a bit overwhelming, and the campuses wanted some guidance.” As an example, Klein forwarded the email that UCSF’s internal audit director, Irene McGlynn, sent to the president’s office in October after she’d received the survey from Howle, the state auditor. McGlynn asked Matthew Hicks, an auditor in Napolitano’s office, if all campuses had received the surveys.
“If so,” she said, “I would recommend to have a systemwide call (for campus audit directors) regarding this to make sure that we are consistent in terms of info we are providing.”
In her note, McGlynn also sent Hicks a copy of the state auditor’s cover letter on the surveys, which contained the message admonishing recipients that state law required confidentiality “by not sharing it with others outside of your campus.”
Napolitano’s staff conducted the conference call in November, which was among the actions Howle considered a violation of the confidentiality requirement. Asked to comment Wednesday on the apparent discrepancy between Napolitano’s testimony and the emails, Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-San Ramon, vice chair of the higher education committee, reiterated her call for a subpoena of UC records.
“This discrepancy in the testimony and the characterization of the Office of the President’s involvement in the surveys is precisely why the Legislature should issue legally binding subpoenas, for all of the documents and communications related to responses to the campus surveys,” she said. “We need to get to the bottom of this.”
Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, the budget committee chair who called for the audit with Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, said it is now up to the regents to take action. “They have to take it very seriously and review all the facts,” Ting said. “The fact that the president already tampered with a state audit is very serious.”
Monica Lozano, chairwoman of the UC regents, told lawmakers Tuesday that the board will look into the alleged tampering. At the same time, she said, “we have confidence in (the president’s) leadership.”
Maybe another means of communication could be used in the future: