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U.S. Rep. Clyburn Defends S.C. State Research Center

COLUMBIA, S.C. – U.S. Rep. James Clyburn blamed former Gov. Mark Sanford on Tuesday for delays in building a South Carolina State University transportation center that bears his name and said that has contributed to fundraising issues.

The center has been under scrutiny for months and a Legislative Audit Council report released last month citied mismanagement and a lack of planning as reasons for the delays in the 13-year-old project. While published reports had questioned how $50 million flowing into the project had been spent, the audit report found no evidence of missing money in a limited review. It did however question spending, billing, and oversight practices.

Clyburn, speaking with reporters Tuesday, said plans for the center were rejected 27 times during Sanford’s two terms.

“So how is the school responsible for that?” Clyburn said. Those delays impeded fundraising efforts, said the third-highest ranking Democrat in the U.S. House.

Sanford doesn’t recall how many times he rejected the proposals but said he opposed spending on a variety of projects that should have found other funding sources.

“This was nothing personal to him or South Carolina State,” Sanford said. “It was long the belief of the administration that you don’t spend money you don’t have.”

Clyburn said there’s a long history of singling out South Carolina State for scrutiny. “Nobody has said a word to me about the millions of dollars that I’ve earmarked to the University of South Carolina, the Medical University (of South Carolina), Clemson University, Columbia College—no one’s said one word to me about that. They only question what I send to South Carolina State. Why?” Clyburn asked.

For instance, Clyburn said he landed federal money to help the University of South Carolina launch its Innovista project. He said that project, like the transportation center at South Carolina State, is still seeking money. “It’s just crazy,” Clyburn said.

“It’s clear that there is disparate treatment being accorded that school. They are not measured in the same way,” Clyburn said.

But the school has drawn financial scrutiny for years apart from the transportation center. For instance, the state’s comptroller general has repeatedly complained that the university doesn’t provide the information he needs to close the state’s financial books on time.

Auditors looking at the center’s financial practices noted that a random review of expenses between 2007 and 2009 raised questions about travel reimbursements that included an employee submitting a reimbursement request for a four-night stay at a hotel when the stay was for a single night. The agency said it forwarded that information to the State Law Enforcement Division for review.

Clyburn downplayed that.

“Now, you go to the University of South Carolina; you go to any state agency; you go to any federal agency, and you’re going to find that somebody has done that,” Clyburn said. “No, I don’t condone that. But I don’t condone you telling me that that’s equivalent to somebody stealing $50 million.”

Despite financial controls, that happens and should be addressed when it is discovered, Clyburn said.

“It was very minor stuff—what you call garden-variety crap—that’s what it is,” Clyburn said.

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