July 2008




The Office of Inspector General will issue this newsletter periodically to report the results of recent audits, investigations, and other work related to NSF's programs. Our intent is to better inform the public and  help members of the research community become more aware of the types of problems that may be found during an audit or investigation, as well as measures that may be taken to prevent them.




In This Issue








:: School Can’t Support $4.1 Million in Grant Expenditures ::

An OIG audit of the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) could not determine whether $4.1 million of approximately $13 million in costs claimed on two NSF awards complied with federal cost principles.  During the audit, SDP was unable to provide reliable information from its accounting system or adequate source documentation to support the amounts in question.  As a result, the auditors could not test a material portion of SDP’s grant expenses and therefore questioned the $4.1 million and issued a disclaimer of opinion in the final audit report.  A prior OIG audit of SDP performed in 2000 found many of the same problems, which the school district had apparently failed to correct.  Because of the seriousness of the internal control deficiencies cited and SDP’s history of such problems, the auditors recommended that NSF make no further awards to SDP until corrective actions have been implemented and verified by the agency.





:: Two Cases of Purchase Card Abuse Appear at Same University ::

A recent OIG investigation disclosed that during a five year period, a former accountant at an NSF funded university research center in Georgia made more than 3,800 personal purchases totaling more than $316,000 using a state issued purchase card.  Her purchases included household appliances, food, personal clothing, RV supplies and equipment, season tickets to college football games as well as tickets to an American Idol concert.  To conceal these illicit activities, she submitted forged receipts to the approving official and moved the charges to multiple accounts to make it more difficult to track her purchases.  When confronted with questions about her purchase card use, the subject immediately resigned.  On May 13, 2008, the subject entered guilty pleas to all 22 counts of a federal indictment and is currently awaiting sentencing.


In a related investigation, OIG investigators determined that a former program coordinator at the same university had used a state issued purchase card to make personal purchases totaling more than $173,000 over a period of more than four years.  The purchases included jewelry, automobile repairs and insurance and groceries.  The subject also submitted falsified invoices for reimbursement that she then used to pay personal debts.  The subject was subsequently indicted by in the Superior Court of Fulton County Georgia and is currently awaiting trial.





:: University’s Labor Effort System Can Be Improved ::

As part of a review of the systems used by NSF’s top-funded universities to document the staff time actually committed to NSF grants, OIG audited the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) to validate the salaries and wages charged to the grants.  The audit disclosed that while UCSD generally has a well established and sound grants management system, improvements are needed to ensure proper oversight of labor effort reporting.  The audit found that 60 of 69 reports were either certified late or not dated, and 6 reports were not signed or did not include proper confirmation of the effort reported.  In addition, 7 out of a sample of 30 employees interviewed by the auditors indicated that either a percentage of their time charged to NSF had not directly benefited NSF awards, or that the salaries charged had exceeded amounts specified in NSF or UCSD’s policies.  Findings in other labor-effort system reviews undertaken by OIG have also indicated a need for more effective and timely controls for certifying labor effort.





:: University Strengthens Research Misconduct Investigations in Response to OIG Concerns ::

A university significantly improved its process of investigating allegations of research misconduct after its investigation and adjudication of an incident of plagiarism was rejected by our office for not being thorough or timely.  When we discussed our concerns with the university, and pointed out weaknesses in its policy, it responded positively by changing its research misconduct policy, hiring a Research Integrity Officer, and associating itself with an ethics center.  Additionally, the subject of the investigation has made substantial efforts to improve the scholarly standards not only in his lab, but campus-wide, including creating and teaching a Ph.D. traineeship course that incorporates the responsible conduct of research (ethical foundations of scientific practices), and lessons learned.





:: Recurring Issues Identified in Research Misconduct Cases ::

A former employee of an NSF-funded research center pled guilty to one count of mail fraud, in response to an indictment charging the subject with seven counts of mail fraud.  On June 25, 2007, the subject was sentenced in U.S. District Court to 16 months in prison, 3 years of supervised release, payment of restitution of $18,214.15, and payment of a special assessment of $100.  We referred the outcome of this investigation to NSF with a recommendation that the subject be debarred for a period of 5 years because she abused her position of trust and could readily obtain the same type of employment elsewhere, as well as the fact that her actions were intended solely for her personal financial gain.  NSF’s decision is pending.









To report a possible instance of fraud, waste, or abuse pertaining to NSF programs or awards, please call our hotline at 1-800-428-2189 or contact us at oig@nsf.gov. For more information about OIG activities, visit our website: www.nsf.gov/oig

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