Knox County, Tennessee – Spreadsheet Error

When your auditors catch a 6 million dollar error in your cash on hand out of $128.9 million, you’re having a bad day.  That’s a 4.65 % error in cash on hand for Knox County, TN.

I am Neutral

I am not from Knoxville, Tennessee and couldn’t tell you whether they are Republican or Democrat.  I haven’t driven through Knox County in decades.  But I do care about inaccurate spreadsheets in government.

What Does the Knox County Error Teach Us?

The Knox County spreadsheet error of $6 million dollars teaches a lot to any government authority who is willing to learn.  Also, the media could learn a few things about reporting.

3rd Party Audits of Government are Essential

Apparently Knox County was required by their own rules/laws to submit some financial papers to KPMB (a Big Four auditor in the U.S.) for audit.

Deadlines for Audits must be Observed

The Knox County staff submitted their financial papers to KPMB for review 4 weeks after the deadline their own Finance Office set.  Late, late, and later still.

Beware the Software Error Story

Initially the problem or error was explained as a software error.  I think people think its OK to claim software errors because they think it means no person committed an error.  If you’re in the computer business as I am, a software error means that various people forgot to check the software correctly.

But as it turns out, whoever claimed the $6 million error was a software error was just guessing.  Guessing about shortfalls in government money isn’t a good idea.

A Knox County accountant forgot to include or “link” one line item from another spreadsheet.  It was a user error, plain and simple.  Even accomplished Excel users can make mistakes.

Don’t Leave Town after Submitting a Million Dollar Error

After the Knox County accountant submitted his financial papers with a $6 million error, Trustee Office personnel left town without investigating the money shortfall.  I guess they had more important things to do.

Fuzzy Reporting Doesn’t Help

In the Internet news reports I read the media didn’t describe what financial documents were submitted for audit to KPMB (the 3rd party auditors).  That would have been useful information.

The Knoxville media could also have asked how long the county trustees knew of the cash on hand disparity.  What decisions were made on the basis of a presumed shortfall of cash?  That would be a good story.

Research the Entire Story

Just do a search on the Internet for Knox County error.  You’ll find various articles.

Don’t forget to read the KPMB email to Knox County warning them of problems.  Here is that email.

Who Cares?

As I said, I’m not from Knoxville, Tennessee.  I also have made an effort to leave out any names of people quoted in the article.  I’m more concerned about how this spreadsheet error was handled.  The Knox County spreadsheet error is instructive to anyone concerned about how their government money is collected, spent, and audited.

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