Recent NSF OIG Audits Highlight Travel, Equipment-and Dental Work

Before heading out to conduct field work in Antarctica in May 2015, a University of Montana (UM) student needed some dental work done to qualify for the program. The fixes to his or her pearly whites cost $1,477, which UM charged to a National Science Foundation (NSF) award.

Not so fast, said auditors from NSF’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). Although the work was “required in order [for the student] to be eligible,” the agency’s U.S. Antarctic Program participant guide “specifically states that the cost of treatment to resolve dental conditions in order to meet USAP screening criteria are not reimbursable,” auditors said, calling those costs unallowable.

The UM audit was one of two OIG recently issued; the other was of Tufts University (RRC 10/25/18). UM’s audit covered $22 million in costs claimed on 122 awards from Sept. 1, 2013, to Aug. 21, 2016, during which 250 transaction charges were scrutinized through various means, including “cluster testing.”

In its response, UM didn’t dispute the auditors’ conclusion about the dental costs, and agreed to pay back the funds, which were among $6,827 of unallowable costs charged to three other NSF awards that OIG had flagged. Auditors also flagged $867 “to produce an auction booklet used for fundraising purposes,” which OIG said was “expressly unallowable;” $740 incurred when hotel costs of $239 per diem were incurred, exceeding the allowable amount by $76; and $3,743 in shipping costs for grant-related equipment.

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