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Slew of NSF OIG Audits Features ‘Emphatic’ Disagreement By CSU

Findings of four recent audits released by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Inspector General (OIG) again reinforce the idea that expenditures must be properly timed to benefit a particular award.

But the audits also contain some unusual features—for example, a university was called out because a principal investigator (PI) failed to acknowledge NSF support in a published paper—and there was some unusually strong pushback from universities against repayment recommendations.

None of the audit findings have yet been resolved with NSF, so it remains to be seen whether the agency will confirm or turn aside OIG’s recommendations.

Historically, NSF has tended to side with awardee institutions, particularly when they mount strong opposition to a finding or, as happened in the recent past, NSF concludes that OIG has “misinterpreted” one of its policies. This has not always been the case, of course.

In November, for example, NSF disallowed nearly $80,000 for equipment, materials and supplies that it said the University of California San Diego Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO) purchased too near the end of five awards. In its resolution of the 2017 audit, NSF disallowed a total of $95,882, permitting just $15,634 of $111,516 auditors questioned regarding costs claimed from April 1, 2012, to March 31, 2015. NSF said its decision was based on regulatory requirements and SIO’s “concurrence,” but in responses to the auditors’ draft report, officials said the purchases were reasonable and necessary (“NSF Disallows Majority of Questioned Costs at Scripps Institute, Mostly Sides with USC,” RRC E-Alert, Nov. 29, 2018).

The following are details of the recent audits.