Today, the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to provide oversight of the National Science Foundation (NSF), including the examination of various issues identified by the NSF Office of Inspector General (OIG). Testifying today, NSF's Inspector General, Ms. Allison Lerner, outlined several issues of concern and potential inefficiency within NSF's processes and operations.
"By identifying individuals who attempt to abuse the public trust or defraud government programs, the Office of Inspector General also enforces integrity in agency operations," said Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). "It is my hope that the Office of Inspector General will continue to be a steward of taxpayer dollars, ensuring that NSF programs and awardees are managed responsibly."
The OIG assesses internal controls, financial management, information technology, and other systems that affect the operation of NSF programs. According to the September 2011 semiannual report to Congress, OIG found five research misconduct cases and recovered nearly $13 million for the government. Additionally, eleven audit reports and reviews were issued, which identified over $200 thousand in questioned costs.
Discussing the work of the OIG, Ms. Lerner said that her office "is committed to providing rigorous, independent oversight of NSF." She said, "Since the agency's primary mission activity is accomplished through funding external awardees, the success of NSF's overall mission and the achievement of its goals are largely dependent on effective grant and contract administration."
One significant issue Ms. Lerner brought to the Subcommittee's attention is substantial fraud within the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. "Since 2009, we have opened 70 investigations involving SBIR awards, and we currently have 40 active SBIR investigations, 15 of which are being coordinated with the Department of Justice for possible civil/criminal action," Ms. Lerner testified. Such fraud includes duplicate funding from more than one SBIR agency, conversion of award funds to personal use, and false statements in order for businesses to be eligible for the program. To date, Ms. Lerner said that NSF has implemented several recommendations made by the OIG to avoid SBIR fraud.
Ms. Lerner concluded: "Our work reflects my office's sustained commitment to helping NSF be an effective steward of taxpayer dollars and benefits from the support of NSF management across the Foundation."
The March 2012 Semiannual report is expected to be transmitted to Congress by the end of the month.