Laptop Disallowance in Recent Federal Audit

Rest in peace, laptops. As a result of a recent audit at Duke University, the charging of laptop computers has come under scrutiny. In the Duke audit, one of the disallowed costs was a laptop costing $3,364 plus F&A of $1,817 totaling $5,181. the sum represented 13.3% of the disallowed costs. Because it was a statistical audit, the costs were extrapolated to the population as a whole. As a result, the laptop ultimately represented $221,260 of the overall allowance of $1,661,011.

Here is what the audit report said:

“Some examples of items from our sample that we consider unallowable are:

The University charged an NIH funded project 3,364 for a laptop computer and asserted that the computer was used solely for project data and allowed the employee ‘the opportunity to work from home or wherever she may be located at any time of the day.’ We noted, however, that the involved employee was budgeted to devote only 5 percent of her University time to the porject charged for her computer. ”

Clearly the auditor would not accept the assertion that the computer was used solely for project data. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that someone lugging around a laptop, even the newer lighter models, just to use it 5% of the time. It is therefore liekly that the person was using it for more than 5% of the time and for non-award purposes; or maybe the laptop wasn’t really needed in the first place. Whatever the case may be, the auditor didn’t acept the justification.

So what’s next? a possibility is for the auditor to ask to see a laptop and then open it and see what programs and data are on it. If there is an internet browser, an e-mail program like Outlook, and lots of emails, you will get total disallowance unless each e-mail and contact is specifically related to the project to which the laptop was charged. additionally, if you have programs unrelated to the project on the laptop, they could be construed as being for non-award use and disallowed. The burden of proof in this situation is on the user not the auditor; a case of guilty until proven innocent.

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