Legislative auditor pushes for better internal controls at NORA

A report released Monday by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office dinged the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, saying several aspects of its operations were in need of improved internal controls.

The best practices assessment found relatively minor holes in the agency’s written policies and procedures, ethics policy, internal auditing system, payroll and attendance records and records retention policy. State auditors reviewed NORA’s operation from July 2010 through April 2013.

An assessment is not as thorough as an audit, but it provides recommendations for improving operations.

NORA assists in returning blighted residential and commercial properties to use.

NORA Executive Director Jeffrey Hebert said the agency has been working with auditors since the assessment process began late last year and already has made or is in the process of making several of the recommended changes.

NORA, for instance, is working with the company that processes its payroll to fix a “glitch” in the computer program, Hebert said. NORA requires employees to submit signed time sheets to supervisors, using a computer-based system.

A review of 242 time sheets found that 19 were missing the signature of an employee, supervisor or both, according to the assessment. Hebert said the time sheets were actually complete, but a malfunction in the program that processes the records recorded them as incomplete. The issue should be resolved in three to four months, Hebert said.

In another instance, NORA has put a control in place to minimize the chance of “human error” in calculating employee absences, Hebert said. The assessment found that the agency was not consistently allocating employee time off to the proper sources of grant funding.

The report recommended that NORA’s personnel policy be updated annually. The agency’s most recent employee handbook is dated December 2009. Hebert said the agency is in the process of updating the manual and will present it to NORA’s board at the end of the year. The report also recommended that NORA, which relies on the city for information technology support, enter into an agreement for that service. The parties are working on that deal, Hebert said.

In other cases, auditors recommended NORA do things that it already does, but for which the agency did not have a written procedure The report found N ORA didn’t have a written ethics or records retention policy. Hebert said the agency complies with the state ethics requirements and state and federal public records retention requirements and will formally adopt those rules as its own in an upcoming board meeting.