- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The Nebraska State Auditor’s office is taking the University of Nebraska to task for some travel reimbursements it says include first-class flights, overpayments for meals and expensive oceanfront hotel rooms.

A letter from State Auditor Mike Foley sent Monday to university officials said his office reviewed 87 documents related to travel expenses for employees at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

State policy limits air travel reimbursement to coach seating, although employees are allowed to upgrade to business or first class if they pay the difference themselves.

But Foley said UNMC employees bought 20 first-class airline tickets totaling nearly $96,000 paid for by the university.

“The university should not reimburse avoidable or extravagant costs arising from arrangements, including more expensive or indirect flights and longer stays than required, that needlessly increase travel expenses,” the letter said.

UNMC administrators disagree with the report’s findings. Deb Thomas, senior associate vice chancellor for business and finance at UNMC, said each one of the first-class flights was paid for with private funds.

Foley also said he found that meal reimbursements were improperly submitted and included alcohol, barred from reimbursement by university policy and state law.

Employees are also required to submit meal receipts with an itemized list of the purchases, but Foley said five reviewed by his office found $238 in purchases that were not itemized. University employees also paid for meals for non-university employees in violation of university policy, he said.

Some lodging expenses also violated university and state policies, Foley found.

Foley said one document showed that two employees upgraded their hotel rooms from the standard $265 per night. One employee stayed in a room with a partial view of the ocean for $290 per night, while the other chose to upgrade to an oceanfront view for $299 per night.

In all, the room upgrades cost an additional $550, the audit found.

NU spokeswoman Melissa Lee said the issues detailed in the auditor’s report represent only a fraction of total university travel.

“It’s among our highest priorities to be responsible stewards of our resources,” Lee said. “We’re confident in the policies we have in place for reporting travel.”

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