Politics & Government

Gold-hunting gear not legitimate use of state resources, audit says

Washington State University Tri-Cities.
Washington State University Tri-Cities. File – Tri-City Herald

Add it to the employee handbook: Building tools to search for gold is not a legitimate use of state resources.

A new state audit dings an employee at Washington State University Tri-Cities for using university equipment to aid his personal hobby of hunting gold.

The employee spent time over about a year using a welder owned by the university to create “personal gold recovery equipment,” according to the audit, published Thursday. The employee, who works in a facility that helps prepare biomass for conversion to biofuel, said he completed the project in his free time to help teach another employee how to use the facility’s new welder, which was purchased in November 2014.

The two employees at WSU Tri-Cities’ Einstein Pilot Facility shared “a common hobby of gold recovery,” the audit report said.

The state Auditor’s Office began investigating the possible misuse of state resources in response to a whistleblower complaint. The auditor’s office found reasonable cause to believe an improper governmental action occurred, according to the report.

“The subject said he now realizes he violated state law and university policy, but at the time he believed his actions ultimately benefited the university because he and his employee obtained the necessary skills to operate the welder,” the audit said.

To manufacture the gold prospecting equipment, the employee also used welding rods purchased by the university, auditors found.

University officials agreed with the audit’s findings, according to the report.

A university spokesman said the audit has been forwarded to the chancellor at WSU Tri-Cities to decide whether personnel actions are warranted.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1