Auditors: Clyburn Center not missing funds, but completion 'dim'

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SC State University was awarded a Tier I University Transportation Center designation in 1998 by the Federal Highway Administration. SCSU was only one of 33 colleges and universities to win the designation, which included million in federal funding to support educational programs for transportation research. The designation included funding for the Clyburn Center. At the end of the designation, which stopped in 2006, SCSU's Clyburn Center was the only one of the 33 centers that was not completed and conducting research.

In 2006, SC State University re-applied for Tier I designation, but was denied by the feds. Auditors found that the federal agency didn't provide any specific reason for denying SCSU the designation, but "documents indicate that federal officials were not pleased with SCSU's performance," according to the LAC. Since SCSU won the designation, the university continued to cause problems with the project and did not follow the guidelines of the grant, according to auditors.

On March 19, 2009, Congressman Clyburn sent President George Cooper a letter concerning the loss of the UTC designation. In the letter Clyburn wrote, "I am willing to assist the university in trying to regain its federal status, and pursue other ventures for its students and faculty. However, until there is clear direction and leadership at the Transportation Center, I am reluctant to pursue further federal investments for this project."

"It is also very clear to me that these challenges led to SCSU losing its designation," Clyburn continued. "However, it is clear to me that a vision to train SCSU students, and others, in becoming transportation professionals and create a new and inviting entrance to the campus have deteriorated to a point of stagnation, which has ultimately jeopardized a unique mission."


Auditors turned over thousands of documents to State Law Enforcement Division agents and to State Ethics Commission investigators during the audit. Investigators are looking into how university employees spent public tax dollars, and whether the expenditures were within the law. Neither agency would confirm or deny the existence of an investigation when contacted following the audit's release Tuesday.


SC State University officials must come up with an additional $83 million in order to complete the construction of the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center. The university currently has $24,097,233 in federal funds on hand in the Treasury account for construction of the center. However, the university must come up with $3 million in state matches in order to access the funds.

The LAC's investigation shows that only one portion of the Clyburn Center is fully funded and will be finished by September 2011. It's Phase I, which is made up of a 10,590 square foot vehicle bay and research area, and a "chiller plant," which houses the heating and air systems that would have run the Clyburn Center. Phase I square footage makes up only 5% of the total of the Clyburn Center. Auditors found that of the remaining 95% of the center, only 11% (the Emily Clyburn Archives Center) was partially funded.

SC State University administration told auditors it was looking to use South Carolina Education Lottery funds to make up the state matches required to complete the Clyburn Center. The use of lottery funds for that purpose may not be legal, according to the LAC. State lawmakers are planning to address SCSU's use of lottery funds and make a determination as to whether those funds can be used.

The LAC told SCSU's Board of Trustees that the chances of the Clyburn Center being finished are dim, and that the board, "should re-examine plans for constructing the center," according to the report. "SCSU has no viable plan to secure the remaining $80 million necessary to complete the building project."

Even if the Clyburn Center was fully funded, the LAC found that it would not be finished until 2020.


After multiple requests were denied for an interview with Congressman James Clyburn concerning the center at SC State University that bears his name, Clyburn released a statement Tuesday after the LAC report was published.

In his statement to the AP, Clyburn said "the troubled South Carolina State University transportation center that bears his name is being unfairly bullied by people opposed to seeing the Orangeburg school succeed." Clyburn said, "he's not surprised a state audit found no money missing from the long-delayed project at his alma mater. Clyburn also says he would support more federal money for the center."

"This report vindicates what I have been saying all along about the Transportation Center funding," said Clyburn. "No federal funds are missing. They are sitting safely at the National Highway Trust Fund waiting to be drawn down after approved expenditures are made by the university as mandated by this cost-reimbursement contract award.

"While this project may have challenges, the biggest obstacle comes from those who sought to manufacture this controversy and delay the university's efforts for their own agenda," said Clyburn. "I continue to support this project and will do everything I can to see that it is completed. This project began as an opportunity for South Carolina State to have a unique mission to help train a diverse workforce for our state and nation's transportation needs well into the future. That is still an important goal, and one I am pleased to support."

In an emailed statement, SC State University President George Cooper responded, "The most important finding in the report confirms what we've always known and said: there is no missing $50 million at SC State," Cooper continued, "While we don't believe there is anything in the report that hasn't already been discussed, we will immediately and carefully review the rest of the findings and recommendations because we are committed to correcting the mistakes of the past, to reforming our policies and procedures and to moving forward to build a stronger university."

There is no word on whether SC State University plans to participate in the press conference planned for Tuesday afternoon.

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