Budget and Finance

Budget and finance at the University of Pittsburgh is a well-defined and robust organization with seven departments under the chief financial officer (CFO); (see University of Pittsburgh Fact Book 2011, University Organization, Chief Financial Officer). It is overseen directly by the Board of Trustees and the Chancellor and reports to a number of University Senate committees.

This section will focus on assessment in four functions that represent the budget and finance area and that most directly relate to the support of the University’s academic mission and goals: budget monitoring, asset allocation, internal financial controls, and procurement.

Financial controls fall under the responsibility of the associate vice chancellor of financial information, whose area also is responsible for budgeting and financial reporting, general accounting, research grant accounting, and fringe benefits.

All financial transactions and budgeting data for the University of Pittsburgh come through the CFO’s organization, which provides financial assessments and benchmarking data to the Chancellor and the Provost. The Board of Trustees, largely corporate executives, are comfortable with financial data and constantly challenge the CFO and his staff on their projections and reports. The trustees also expect then University to use benchmarking data and to generate “what if ” financial analyses. This relationship between the University and its board has promoted a culture of assessment in the finance and budget area. An example of this relationship is seen in a resolution approved by the board at its February 24, 2000, meeting, in which high level University goals are articulated along with expectations for measurement and evaluation of those goals. Specifically, the resolution notes:

Our overarching goal is to be amongt he best in all that we do. We will add—significantly, measurably, and visibly—to institutional quality and reputation through the accomplishments of our people; the strength of our programs; and the regional, national, and international impact ofour work.

During its February 22, 1996, meeting, the board identified specific goals with respect to pursuing excellence in undergraduate education, maintaining excellence in research, ensuring operational efficiency and effectiveness, securing an adequate resource base, and partnering incommunity development.The board passed a number of resolutions, including one related to operational efficiency and effectiveness, which is pertinent to the subgroup’s charge:

The board requests that the interim Chancellor immediately initiate an in-depthreview and analysis of the organizational structure, staffing levels, and capital assets of the entire University of Pittsburgh system.… No later than the time of its October 1996 meeting, the Chancellor should report to the board on steps that can be taken to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the administrative areas to [be] the “bes tof the best” within American colleges, universities, and businesses. That report should include a comprehensive assessment of the onetime costs and ongoing savings that would result from the implementationof these recommendations.

This resolution suggests that a culture of assessment in the finance and budget area of the University starts at the top of the organization; it also suggests that a culture of assessment has been in place for many years. This culture also isevident in the individual departments and units. An in-depth examination of budget monitoring, the asset allocation plan, internal financial controls, and procurement—all of which are integral to protecting, securing, and increasing the University’s assets and resources—illustrates how assessment is embedded in the University’s finance and budget area (see WGIE report).

Budget Monitoring

As recently as the late 1990s, there was little short-term monitoring of the budget across the University. Only after the end of the fiscal year, when the books were closed, was it possible for a central office to determine how closely actual costs and revenues corresponded to the projected budget. For more than a decade now, however, various forms of highly detailed reports monitoring projected-to-actual budgets are produced on shorter schedules. The Budget Committee of the Board of Trustees, for example, receives a quarterly report of budget to actuals, which is common in the for-profit sector but apparently highly unusual in higher education.

Planning, Assessment, and Links to Institutional Goals

The most substantive form of budget review and assessment occurs on a monthly basis through a report titled Analyses, Ratios, Trends, or the ART book (see Appendix B6). This document compiles in tabular form data for more than 30 categories of revenues and expenses, typically broken down month by month, and in some cases as a comparison of current to previous fiscal year. It reports on such topics as annual salaries broken down by various schools or areas; health insurance payments; tuition by schools, both in and out of state; and sponsored research, with revenues broken out over the life of the grant. The tabular mode of presentation makes readily visible monthly or yearly variances. Footnotes annotate unusually large variances and sometimes offer brief explanations of the likely causes.

The ART book has evolved continually in the past decade to improve monitoring. For example:

  • Cash flows were added to the ART book in the past eight years, which has allowed for a better understanding of cash flow needs, trends, sources, and uses.
  • Analysis of tuition data has expanded to include analysis by term, vs. budget, andretention. Enrollment data [headcount and full-time equivalent (FTE)] also have been added on a school-by-school basis.
  • Backlog schedules provide insight into the amount of research “in the pipeline” to make visible how a disruption in research funding may impact the University. The analysis measures the amount of unspent research funding awarded to the University broken out by responsibility center and principal investigator (PI). The analysis helps to identify key researchers by listing the backlog of the top 50 PIs.

Examples of Assessment Used to Improve Infrastructure Investment

The CFO reviews the ART book and further questions the rationale for specific variances or notes emergent trends. Examples of inquiry and action taken as a result of reviewing this document include the following:

  • Cash flow schedules and the monthly analysis of the general University quasi-endowment provide support for determining the amount and timing of additional transfers of funds from the operating fund to the endowment.
  • Adding the review of unspent endowment earnings by responsibility center has helped the Office of Admissions and Financial Aidand the schools to better use these funds, particularly to support financial aid needs.
  • By analyzing monthly health care cost data, it is now possible to develop an IBNR (incurred but not reported) liability estimate rather than paying a third party, such as Mercer, to do so.

Much of the information compiled in the ART book needs to be collected for yearly audits and various federal and state requirements, but collecting this information on a monthly basis has several useful consequences for establishing a culture of assessment. Monthly snapshots allow for a quick identification of emerging trends or problems and make possible timely attention to the underlying issues. They support data-based planning for the next fiscal year by providing realistic projections of tuition, endowmentreturns, and grants, and they facilitate modeling responses to various scenarios of changes in revenue and cost streams.

As they become more normative practices, constant monitoring and assessment have become efficient and cost-effective features of budget and finance. Over the last decade, for example, the number of people in research accounting has remained fairly stable (17–19FTE) even as the grants for which they are responsible have nearly tripled, from $240 million to more than $700 million. Additional efficiencies and capabilities will result from the implementation of the Cognos system and furthe revolution of the financial data warehouse.

Improving and Defining a Sustainable Assessment Practice

WGIE found that assessment in the budget monitoring area fully meets the applicable elements of Standard 7: It is clearly useful, cost-effective, reasonably accurate, truthful, planned, ongoing, organized, and sustained. It also is documented, is integrated with the institution’s overarching goals, is systematic and sustained, is interfaced with academic and administrative areas, uses appropriate resources, is sufficiently practical, and is periodically evaluated.

The University should continue on its path of developing a robust financial data warehouse and using of advanced analytical tools that ultimately will provide additional efficiency and speed for the administration as well as the unit levels. However, such endeavors require resources, and the University will need to channel its resources to the most exigent needs given pending budget constraints.

Asset Allocation Plan

There are three basic forms of assessment used in managing the University of Pittsburgh’sendowment:

  • ongoing review of the endowment’s asset allocation, or the percentage of the endowment invested in different classes of assets; identifying appropriate financial managers to oversee particular investments; and regular monitoring of the performance of all financial managers.

This work is done both in house and with outside consultants and is presented quarterly to the Board of Trustees, whose Investment Committee actively participates in policy decisions and reviews.

Planning, Assessment, and Links to Institutional Goals

The endowment is divided into eight broad investment categories: domestic equity, international equity, emerging markets, fixed income, marketable alternatives, nonmarketable alternative, real assets, and cash and equivalents.The Office of Finance staff regularly reviews the current mix of asset allocation across these categories and makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees Investment Committee based on statistical analyses of past performance, comparisons with peer institutions, consultant recommendations, and assessment of current market risks and opportunities. The Investment Committee may then direct an adjustment in the overall allocation mix.

In the past, there have been significant changes in asset allocation based on assessment. Around 2000, for example, the University had a simpler allocation plan. The Office of Finance benchmarked allocation in various ways, including the NACUBO (National Association of College and University Business Officers) study and a peer benchmark study of endowments of similar size. As a result, the endowment entered some new major areas of investment and diversified its holdings in others.

Currently, the allocation mix is set approximately once a year. The staff prepares various scenarios of risk and return in relation to current conditions. Outside consultants (e.g., Cambridge) provide a broader perspective on the entire market as well as offer access to additional information that can influence specific investment decisions. Because the endowment is constructed for long-term growth, changes in asset allocation may not be made every year in response to short-term considerations. Allocation patterns are benchmarked against peer institutions, and the current mix is broadly similar to them, though there is no effort made to match them exactly.

When broad patterns of allocation have been set, the Office of Finance finds appropriate managers to conduct the specific investments. How this occurs with hedge funds, probably the most complex category of asset management, offers a useful example of the kind of reviews regularly undertaken. Here, the office hires an outside consultant, Albourne Partners Limited, because of its exhaustive database of virtually allhedge funds, with each given a rating on nine distinct indicators. Highly rated firms are then interviewed in house to evaluate the investment team, its strategy, and its process and to see if it is compatible with the University’s institutional practices and values. In-house staff members review a variety of documents, such as audited financials, compliance manuals, codes of ethics, and various legal contracts. They grade each firm on elements such as process, risk control, personnel, and strategy.

The review process seems carefully conceived and executed, but the exigencies of financial management always introduce some risk. In response to a recent instance of fraud by one hedge fund manager, the Office of Finance now double checks to ensure that the recommending consultant has expert knowledge in the particular field in which a fund operates; it documents the entire selection process, listing who was interviewed and what documents were provided; and all engagement letters are reviewed by outside counsel. More generally, the entire review process is constantly evolving, with the questions used in the assessment of financial managers themselves being assessed when they did not produce useful information (e.g., led to standard proforma answers).

The third form of assessment is the ongoing monitoring of financial managers currently involved with the endowment. Since 2003–04, there has been a quarterly assessmentof every manager, which includes an overall review of the performance of the category of investment, summary assessmentof managers in that area, notes from meetings of individual managers, and analysis and review of the quarterly reports provided by each manager.

Again, because the endowment is constructed for long-term growth, a single bad quarter or two may not have immediate consequences, but in-house staff are particularly alert for instances in which unusual risks are being assumed or key personnel in the firm leave. Additionally, the Office of Financeuses various resources made available by its consultants. For example, a Cambridge report on custodial fees (what banks charge for holding assets) provided the impetus for the University to negotiate a lower fee for one of the University’s custodial services.

There is no one-size-fits-all method of assessing managers of different kinds of assets, and there is always a tension between prudent review and micromanagement. The Office of Finance does look at a confidential peer benchmark report for a general comparative overview of its practices, but it’s difficult to make finely detailed judgments on this basis because the goals, values, or institutional commitment sof endowments can differ significantly. The office demonstrates a judicious awareness of the necessity for different kinds of reviews and assessments for different kinds of assets. It seeks to provide alternative, complementary perspectives on its decisions by employing, for example, several outside consultants (e.g., both Cambridge and Albourne). It seeks to build long-term professional relationships with a range of managers but evaluates everyone by reviewing data on actual performance. It seeks to make data-driven decisions but necessarily relies on the professional judgment of its long-term staff, who are well informed of, and deeply committed to, the values, goals, and mission of the University.

One outside measure of the effectivenessof the University’s endowment managers and policies is that Pitt is consistently ranked highly in the College and University Endowments Tablepublished annually by The Chronicle of Higher Education. In the 2009–10 table, Pitt ranked seventh among all U.S. public universities in the market value of its endowment and had tied for the seventh highest one-year percentage rise among the top 28 universities.

Internal Systems of Financial Controls

Financial controls are an integral part of an effective overall management control system. A financial control system establishes goals for financial resources, monitors the use of there sources, and measures the effectiveness with which resources are being used. Specific objectives of the University of Pittsburgh’s internalfinancial control system include safeguarding assets, promoting operational efficiency, encouraging adherence to policies and procedures, and ensuring accurate and reliable financial records.

Examples of Assessment Used to Improve Infrastructure Investment

Internal financial control is at the heart of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which identifies a set of mandatory requirements related to financial practices and corporate governance of public corporations in the United States. The original intent of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) was to restore confidence in the financial markets and to protect investors by improving the accuracy and reliability of corporate disclosures related to their financial practices. SOX is arranged into 11 titles or sections, with aspects of the regulation aimed at public accounting firm requirements, audit committees (expected levels of expertise, roles, and responsibilities), and internal financial control systems.

Because SOX was directed at publicly traded corporations, few universities initially considered implementing procedures to comply with the new legislation. However, both the Board of Trustees, whose members from publicly traded corporations are steeped in SOX, and the University senior leadership felt that implementing some aspects of SOX would further improve the transparency and effectiveness of the University’s finance and budget area. In addition, if and when nonprofits are required to adopt SOX, the University of Pittsburgh would have already established procedures and mechanisms for compliance.

Though benchmarking revealed no other universities were readily adopting SOX, in 2005, the University of Pittsburgh voluntarily adopted provisions of Sections 302 and 404 of SOX as a means of ensuring the effectiveness of financial controls in its business processes, both centrally and at the departmental level. Section 30210 requires that the chief financial officer (CFO) and the chief executive officer (CEO) certify that financial statements have no material misstatements or omissions and that both the CFO and CEO have evaluated the internal controls. Section 40411 requires that information about the scope and effectiveness of internal controls is published in annual reports and that the effectiveness of those controls is attested to by the firm’s auditors.

The implementation of SOX at the University of Pittsburgh was done in a deliberate fashion: Specific resources were allocated, including a permanent SOX project management department and a steering committee. The SOX project management department reports on its progress to the steering committee, which in turn reports to the Audit Committee of the Board of Trustees.

Several forms of assessment were developed to comply with SOX. For example, one assessmentprocess (representing the bulk of the SOX project management team’s effort) is devoted to Section 404 of the legislation: documenting and assessing the design and effectiveness of internal controls. The core of the compliance effort examines internal financial controls for 18 major central business processes, identified by “reversemapping” primary financial reporting numbers to the business elements and associated processes that drive the numbers. The 18 business processes include payroll, payment processing, financial aid, fundraising, and purchasing.

The SOX team developed a specific methodology for assessing the internal controls for each business process. The initial step in themethodology is an introductory meeting with the business process owner during which the SOX team explains the process. The team then develops an overview of the business process and detailed flowcharts. Based on an understanding of the business process, the SOX team develops a risk control matrix, which identifies potential and specified areas of risk, the likelihood that the risk will occur, and the seriousness of the impact should the risky event happen. In addition, the risk control matrix identifies the key controls associated with each risk, and the SOX team tests the effectiveness of key controls. Following this information gathering and testing, the team identifies deficiencies (e.g., controls that are not functioning, are poorly designed, or are nonexistent) and develops recommendations for remediation. The SOX team then has a closing meeting with the business process owner to present its results.

Over the past five years (2005–10), the SOX project management team has reviewed all 18 business processes. From these reviews, the SOX team identified approximately 180 potential risks across the business processes that fall into four broad categories: insufficient documentation; reconciliation issues, especially the lack of escalation procedures if errors in data or large or past due reconciling items are found; insufficient controls in spreadsheets used by departments or areas (e.g., not limiting access to sensitive data or not testing spreadsheets when significant structural changes are made); and access to data that was inappropriate or not needed for specific individuals.

The results of the SOX team efforts—including the detailed documentation of the business process, the risk control matrix, and specific controls—are preserved in a thick binder (called the Book of Findings) for each business process (see Appendix B7 for an excerpt). The Book of Findings is reviewed by the SOX team, the internal audit department, and the Audit Committee of the Board of Trustees.

The SOX team is now beginning to reassess each business process. It estimates that it will take two years to review all 18 business processes again (i.e., reviewing some number of units each year). Because the methodology for assessment is now established and because the business processes have been mapped, risks identified, and controls reviewed, the assessment process should be more efficient going forward.

Improving and Defining a Sustainable Assessment Practice

A culture of assessment is clearly evident within the internal financial controls function at the University of Pittsburgh, as exemplified in the adoption of provisions of Sections 302 and 404 of SOX. Moreover, the fundamental elements of Standard 7 have been satisfied. Assessment goals have been articulated, specific processes have been developed and implemented, and resources have been devoted to assessment. The assessment process has been carefully planned and appears to be sustainable over time, as suggested by there assessment of the 18 business processes now under way. The assessment process has provided accurate data that have proved to be quite useful, resulting in standard documentation across business processes, careful analysis of potential financial risks, and identification of remediation steps when necessary. The successful implementation of these provisions of SOX is seen as a costeffective way to avoid serious fraud issues within the University of Pittsburgh.

Procurement Process

Three areas constitute the procurement process at the University of Pittsburgh (also known as Buy to Pay). These areas work closely together to manage policies and procedures involved in overseeing a large proportion of total University expenses—e.g., $480 million in fiscal year 2010. The procurement system develops strategies to manage the entire purchasing process, from the initial decision to buy through the final steps of payment and accounting. The goal is to obtain the overall best value for purchased goods and services by taking into consideration life cycle cost; quality; supplier service; and efficient ordering, payment, and regulatory compliance processes.

The first area within procurement is Strategic Sourcing and PantherBuy Solutions.This area analyzes patterns of spending, evaluates the current market commodity trends, institutes University-wide contracts for major purchase categories (e.g., office supplies, laboratory supplies,etc.), and evaluates opportunities to participate in various purchasing cooperatives. The goal of this area is to identify opportunities to realize savings and improve quality for purchased goods and services.

The second area of the system is Purchasing Services, an area that is staffed by professional buyers. The purpose of this area is to manage relationships between the various University responsibility centers and their suppliers. The buyers provide assistance for special and complex purchases (such as unique or high-end scientific equipment) and help departments to meet regulatory requirements such as the federal export regulations, federal acquisition regulations, andminority- and women-owned business purchasing requirements under Public Law 95-507. This area also provides guidance to University purchasers on environmentally preferable practices for the entire product life cycle.

The third area of the system is Payment Processing and Compliance. This area receives and processes all invoices and other requests for disbursement, processes all payments, conducts payment audits, and ensures compliance with state and federal tax regulations.

Planning, Assessment, and Links to Institutional Goals

The procurement areas were initially reorganized approximately 12 years ago in order to maximize cost savings, increase efficiency and utility, and improve data management and accountability. Subsequent organizational changes, including another significant reorganization in fiscal year 2010, have been made in response to technology improvements and to improve customer service and internal communications. Overall, the departments work to articulate a mission and strategies that support the University’s goals. An initial set of key measures was drawn up and then modified in subsequent years based on data analysis andassessment of outcomes. Thus, the currentlyimplemented version is the result of years ofassessment-based fine-tuning.

A recent major step in this fine-tuning was achieved in February 2010, when the University received a report from the outside consulting firm (Huron Consulting Group Inc.) that was hired to provide an in-depth review of the system, including benchmarking analyses to compare procedures and outcomes at the University of Pittsburgh with those of other selected Association of American Universities member institutions.

The current mission of the procurement system is to obtain the overall best value for purchased goods and services; reduce operational, financial, and regulatory compliance risks associated with the purchase of goods and services; identify and develop opportunities for qualified diversity suppliers, and promote sustainable purchasing (new for fiscal year 2010).

Examples of Assessment Used to Improve Infrastructure Investment

There are many examples of how assessment has improved procurement processes. For example, assessment of purchasing data has led to the consolidation of purchases through a smaller number of selected vendors in order to improve the University’s negotiation position. Larger contracts with fewer vendors have been initiated, resulting in significant cost savings. These negotiations also include “product rationalization”; by narrowing the vast array of potential items for purchase (e.g., pens, printer paper) to a smaller number of equivalent items, supplies can b estandardized and organized into vendor-based contracts to achieve additional savings. Currently, 80 percent of the University’s total spending is distributed among just 4.2 percent of the total supplier pool. The remaining 95.8 percent of suppliers fill unique and small purchases that account for only 20 percent of total spending.

Another example of how assessment has improved procurement focuses on purchase order systems. Assessment results have indicated that the PRISM system is a relatively inefficientand expensive way to create purchase orders. Benchmarking analyses revealed that an Internet-based system should be explored. After interviewing various Internet providers and comparing their offered services, the University ultimately selected one (called PantherBuy) that specializes in the purchase of scientific equipmentand supplies. The Web/Internet interface allows for more efficient and less expensive order processing. For example, using PRISM, a single traditional purchase order costs an average of $36, whereas an order using the paperless PantherBuy system for Internet procurement costs less than a10th of that (about $3.50). Given that University departments place approximately 280,000 orders annually for the purchase of goods and services, the savings are enormous. The University currently is working to convert all purchases away from the PRISM system and into PantherBuy, beginning with the largest suppliers first. Work also is continuing to optimize the PantherBuy system for University use as well as to move the University’s locally hosted PRISM site to a hosted site via SciQuest software export (which requires less local maintenance).

Improving and Defining a Sustainable Assessment Practice

Improvements to procurement over time indicate that a culture of assessment exists within financial operations at the University of Pittsburgh. The three areas that constitute the system have established routine and regular processes of assessment, which include analyzing patterns of spending, payment processes, contracting relationships, and compliance with regulatory requirements; identifying opportunities for improvement; and implementing changes. These processes satisfy the fundamental elements of Standard 7. In particular, specific goals, strategies, and performance measures for the procurement departments have been developed and refined over time. Benchmarking data are used to compare outcomes to other institutions and identify areas for improvement. Data collected through assessment are accurate and useful and result in specific cost savings, as illustrated in the channeled spending program PantherBuy.