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Agreeing With OIG, NSF Disallows JHU's Late Equipment Costs, Travel Expenses

Post-award research compliance officials, particularly those in award-related finance and accounting roles, will want to review the trio of recent audit resolutions issued by the National Science Foundation for insights into the types of incurred costs NSF finds problematic.

The December issue of RRC delved into the details of the audit resolutions of the University of Connecticut (UConn) and University of Cincinnati (UC).[1] OIG had flagged $75,139 in costs UConn had claimed from Feb. 1, 2016, to Jan. 31, 2019. UConn agreed to pay $61,663 but disputed $13,476. NSF allowed only $1,342, requiring repayment of $73,797.

The third resolution OIG issued was with Johns Hopkins University (JHU); its repayment amount is the largest of the three.[2] Auditors questioned, and NSF sustained, $91,048 in costs among 21 NSF awards from Feb. 1, 2016, to Jan. 31, 2019.[3] Auditors reviewed “more than $1.8 million of the $116.8 million claimed to NSF during the period,” and tested “250 judgmentally selected transactions,” ultimately questioning a total of 32 transactions.

NSF’s disallowance, it said, was based on JHU’s “agreement with the findings and questioned costs.” It also called JHU’s corrective actions “responsive to the compliance and internal control recommendations related to the audit findings.” But JHU officials did address what could be seen as too sweeping of a generalization by auditors about costs incurred at the end of an award.

These were the largest but just one category of four of unallowable charges. The others were unallowable or unreasonable travel, unallocable fringe benefits and inadequately supported transactions.

Of the $68,984 in purchases near award expiration that were questioned, there were 14 transactions that totaled $57,142 for 10 awards. The items ranged in price from $11,445 for a structure probe to $377 for a printer.

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