Carnegie Mellon University
March 22, 2023

Controller's Office Department Spotlight

What are the key functions and services of the Controller’s Office?

The Controller’s Office is responsible for a wide range of financial oversight and operations at Carnegie Mellon University to ensure university compliance with accounting, tax and financial regulations. The departments within the Controller’s Office serve as the backbone for the university’s finances and establishing finance best practices across the university that lead to timely and accurate financial statements. Our key business functions tie into our individual departments that include Accounts Payable, Cost Analysis, Financial Reporting, International Finance, Payroll Services, Property Accounting Services, Sponsored Projects Accounting/Accounts Receivable, and Taxation.

The Controller’s Office partners and collaborates with many entities in support of not only our mission outlined in the Finance Division Strategic Plan 2023 - 2027, but also the greater mission of the university. 

How does the Controller’s Office support the Finance Division’s mission “To provide strategic, predictive, data-informed financial service and guidance to address challenges, explore opportunities, and ensure the university's financial sustainability?”

A key element of financial sustainability includes timely and accurate records and reporting. The departments within the Controller’s Office consolidate the university’s financial records monthly to produce the university’s financial statements. These financial statements inform university leadership during the decision-making process and proactive scenario planning.  This ultimately results in the annual report inclusive of the university’s financial statements.

The university’s annual report showcases the university’s financial strength and sustainability and also demonstrates how our strength can create and nurture an environment where big ideas flourish.  

How does the Controller’s Office interact, collaborate, and engage with other departments across campus?

In order to be successful, the Controller’s Office relies upon Finance representatives throughout the academic and administrative units for timely and accurate financial information. The Controller’s Office facilitates information between the daily transactional needs and the financial planning needed to support the strategic vision of the university. Controller’s Office activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Consults with research administrators across campus ensuring compliance with federal regulations, providing timely and accurate financial reports to sponsors and helps maintain university’s accessibility to research funding.
  • Analyzes the impact of new programs and upcoming financial transactions.
  • Executes the management, tracking, accounting and reporting of all movable and fixed capital assets.
  • Leads the university’s external audit process for the main campus, sponsored programs, and international programs.
  • Coordinates the processing of all university billing for sponsored projects and miscellaneous receivables (excluding student tuition and fees), and processes all invoices and payments for university vendors, along with expense report payments to faculty, staff, students, and non-employees.
  • Processes all payroll for faculty, staff, and students and records payroll accounting entries for the entire university, which includes 18 payrolls each month.
  • Oversees the Administrative Leadership Group (ALG), which is comprised of Finance representatives from across the university (colleges and administrative units). The group meets monthly to review Finance Division updates and often receives updates from various campus departments that impact our members. The Controller’s Office, along with the Finance Division as a whole, often partners with ALG members to advance strategic initiatives, such as the recent Finance Division Strategic Plan 2023 - 2027 Project and Chart of Accounts Redesign Project
  • Participates on a variety of committees, working groups, projects and teams across CMU including but not limited to the following: Advisory Council for Research Administration (ACRA), Committee on University Policy Development (CUPD), Data Stewardship Council, Emergency Preparedness and Response Team, Enterprise Risk Management Working Group, Enterprise Space Information Management, Family Care Advisory Committee, and the Financial DataWarehouse Modernization Project Steering Committee and User Advisory Council.

What is one thing you wish people knew about the Controller’s Office that they may not know?

Along with our unwavering dedication to the university’s mission, we also commit our personal time to those people, animals, and organizations we care for the most. Outside of university business, we are busy raising our 17 children (ranging in ages 2 – 35), enjoying our two grandchildren, caring for our seven four-legged pets and numerous fish, and volunteering for 18 organizations and activities, including youth sports, school associations, churches, elderly care, and the Boy Scouts.

Which Finance Division values does the Controller’s Office most exemplify and how?

  • Unwavering IntegrityIn support of its mission and core values, the Controller’s Office is committed to conducting its activities with the highest integrity and ethical standards, and in compliance with all applicable laws, regulations and university policies. The Controller’s Office illustrates unwavering integrity through honest and transparent efforts of consultation with campus or through its finance transactions.

    Our staff also serves on the University Compliance Committee. The mission of the committee is to support a culture of compliance in the daily business activities of the university by serving as a clearinghouse of information pertaining to the various university units’ compliance obligations and compliance-related issues.

    Finally, even though the university is a tax-exempt entity, there are significant tax compliance requirements and over 3,600 tax documents filed and completed by this office per year, along with monitoring and implementing local, state, federal, and international regulations as needed. 
  • Strength in Execution:  For the past 5+ years, we’ve completed a variety of audits timely and with unqualified opinions, no material weaknesses or findings of the university financial statements, single audits, and our audits related to the international campuses/programs in Africa, Australia, and Qatar campuses. In addition, Federal audits of the annual facilities and administrative (F&A) rates, fringe benefit rates and individual Federal research programs have yielded no audit findings from FY16 forward. In addition we work very closely with government agencies to audit and finalize the F&A rates, along with audits of individual programs to complete audits and finalize the F&A rates in a timely manner.

What Finance Division strategic goal(s) is the Controller’s Office most proud of executing and/or contributing to in the last few years?

The Controller’s Office recently performed the Chart of Accounts (CoA) Redesign Project. This strategic initiative set out to enhance the university’s CoA so that it can best meet the university’s varied reporting and fiscal management needs at all levels of the university into the future. Current state observations were gathered from all areas of the Controller’s Office, Finance Division, and university to identify and prioritize opportunities for CoA improvements, enhancements and efficiencies. The first phase is complete. The Controller’s Office will continue to work on phase two, which includes implementing short-term enhancements and updates to the current university financial system. The CoA Redesign project and information gained as a result of it will be key going forward when identifying and implementing a new university financial system.

The International Payroll Project has encompassed significant collaboration of various teams within the Controller’s Office, along with cross functional campus teams from the Office of Human Resources, College of Engineering, and CMU Africa Business Operations, to improve payroll for our CMU-Africa campus located in Rwanda. The successful implementation of the bi-directional payroll for the CMU Africa campus will utilize Workday and eliminate existing processes and manual intervention that take approximately 70-80 hours per month. Phase one and two of the project are complete, which included documentation of payroll processes and business requirements, identification of strategy and optimization opportunities, and a request for information (RFI)/request for proposal (RFP) that resulted in vendor selection. Phase three is moving forward and will include full implementation and go live. The forward thinking approach for this project can be utilized for future projects and potential expansion opportunities.