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OIG Turns Sights to ‘Flexibilities,’ Keeps Focus on Foreign Influences

Early results from two audits of institutions funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) show they have been meeting guidelines on spending “flexibilities” offered by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The NSF Office of Inspector General (OIG) is planning a total of 10 such audits.

These come amid its continuing investigations into allegations of inappropriate foreign influences in NSF-supported research. OIG officials also have been educating other federal agencies about the use of debarment in such cases, according to a recent update on OIG activities Inspector General (IG) Allison Lerner and Mark Bell, assistant inspector general for audit, provided to the National Science Board (NSB).[1]

By law, OIG is required to annually assess NSF’s “most serious management and performance challenges facing the agency…and the agency’s progress in addressing those challenges,” OIG explained in its fiscal year 2021 report of NSF management challenges.[2]

OIG is reviewing both awardee and institutional compliance with OMB’s guidance, Bell said. OIG has identified NSF’s oversight of grants during a pandemic as a management challenge that correlates to items in OIG’s work plan. Bell added that OIG officials “also include the impacts of the pandemic in other challenge areas.”

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