Louisiana State Museum board compromises with 25 percent rent hike for Lower Pontalba Building residents _lowres

The Lower Pontalba apartments in New Orleans in 2015.

Louisiana's tourism department didn't properly track spending, follow payroll policies or collect appropriate park fees, the legislative auditor's office said in a report released Monday.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's office dug into spending in Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser's office and his Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism from July 2016 through June 2018 and found oversight problems. The offices have a combined annual budget of about $100 million.

Auditors raised concerns that $83,000 was spent on consulting and professional fees by the office-managed seafood marketing board without a formal contract and that spending policies weren't followed, "increasing the risk that unauthorized purchases could be made."

They said the department didn't maintain logs to show that people staying in a state-controlled residential apartment in the historic Lower Pontalba Building in New Orleans' French Quarter met the requirement of official business related to the state museums.

Auditors found admission fees not collected at the correct rates at some state museums and parks, or not collected at all. And they say employees didn't get proper approvals to take leave, charge overtime or use state-issued credit cards in many instances — or the department didn't maintain evidence of it.

"These control weaknesses increase the risk of payroll error and/or fraud and may result in a loss of state and/or federal funds," auditors wrote.

In a written response to each item raised by auditors, Nungesser's deputy secretary Richard Hartley said changes were made at the seafood marketing board to ensure events and projects are tracked in a database and contracts are in place.

The lack of a log for the historic New Orleans apartment use, Hartley said, stemmed from an employee layoff. He said an email calendar with dates and guest names was maintained the whole time and another employee has since been assigned to maintain a written log and approval forms, tracking the stays.

Hartley disagreed with other claims, however, involving oversight of employee payroll and state-issued credit cards. He said agency employees have followed approved internal policies, and he defended those policies.

For example, he said approval for leave often is done by phone or text message, not necessarily in a written form. He also said several employees have the authority to spend up to a certain amount on the credit cards without needing prior approval, but he said all card purchases are reviewed by at least four people besides the cardholder.