Columbia University busted for taking too much overhead on NIH grants

Jul 15 2016 Published by under NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics

From the Manhattan branch of the US Attorney's Office charged:

The United States’ Complaint-In-Intervention (the “Complaint”) alleges that from July 1, 2003, through June 30, 2015, COLUMBIA impermissibly applied its “on-campus” indirect cost rate – instead of the much lower “off-campus” indirect cost rate – when seeking federal reimbursement for 423 NIH grants where the research was primarily performed at off-campus facilities owned and operated by the State of New York and New York City. The Complaint further alleges that COLUMBIA failed to disclose to NIH that it did not own or operate these facilities and that COLUMBIA did not pay for use of the space for most of the relevant period.

...and Columbia University admitted:

COLUMBIA has admitted that it applied the on-campus indirect cost rate to the 423 NIH grants even though the research was primarily performed in space not owned or operated by Columbia, and that it submitted to NIH certified reports that used the on-campus indirect cost rate to calculate the indirect cost amounts claimed by the university.

Ah, those tricky accountants.

Oh. cool. paging down on the complaint we get some specifics:

From July 1, 2003, through June 30, 2015, COLUMBIA’s On-Campus F&A Rate was approximately 61 percent, its Off-Campus F&A Rate was 26 percent, and its Modified Off-Campus F&A Rate was 29.4 percent. The Modified Off-Campus F&A Rate was to be applied to research conducted off-campus but within a certain proximity of the COLUMBIA campus.

Y'know. When I first read this my first thought was that I know some Columbia folks that work off campus at.... oh shit. It's them. It's the drug abuse folks.

COLUMBIA has a collaborative relationship with the New York State Psychiatric Institute (“NYSPI”), a clinical research facility administered by the New York State Office of Mental Health. COLUMBIA faculty perform research in two off-campus buildings owned by the State of New York and operated by NYSPI (the “NYSPI Buildings”). COLUMBIA faculty also perform research in another off-campus building owned and operated by the City of New York (the “City Building”).

For most of the relevant period, COLUMBIA did not pay the State of New York for use of the NYSPI Buildings, and therefore did not incur indirect “facilities-related” costs with respect to the medical research performed in these buildings. Similarly, COLUMBIA did not pay the City of New York for use of the City Building.

Presumably my friends who are the PIs on these grants had no idea. I have no idea what my institution actually charges the NIH as overhead on my grants, all I look at is my direct cost expenditures and balances. But still, sorry to see that it was their research grants that were involved. If nothing else it means that NIDA [Update: I found some details and 22/423 total grants were driect listings from NIDA, although there are what look like subaward identifiers (that may or may not involve other NIDA grants.)] was the entity being ripped off. The settlement was for $9.5 million. It doesn't say how much of this is direct recovery for the fraud and how much is court costs or punishment.

oh, wait. Damn. This looks bad.

COLUMBIA did not state on the applications for the NIH Grants that the research would be primarily performed off-campus, as required. Instead, Columbia frequently included the main address for the College of Physicians & Surgeons in the section of the application that was supposed to list the primary performance location. Even where the NYSPI Buildings or the City Building were listed in that section of the grant application, or mentioned elsewhere in the application, COLUMBIA failed to disclose that these buildings were not owned and operated by the university.

Starting in fiscal year 2009, in lieu of paying rent for use of one of the NYSPI Buildings, the Department of Neuroscience paid NYSPI a portion of the inflated indirect cost recoveries it received from NIH for research projects performed in that building.

This smells a lot more like highly intentional fraud and less like a mistake that someone should have caught. In the pre-award review of the grant, if you ask me. Especially when CU was clearly negotiating the rental arrangements with NYSPI. Someone pretty high up in the office of grants and contracts had to be doing this whole charade intentionally and with planning. There are a handful of other regulatory issues that I don't want to get into which very likely pointed a spotlight on the "performance location" too. This had to be intentional.

Turns out that this was a whistleblower case.

In connection with the filing of the lawsuit and settlement, the Government joined a private whistleblower lawsuit that had previously been filed under seal pursuant to the False Claims Act.

Good for that brave person for bringing this to light.

__
Final thought: I bet you that Columbia University is not the only NIH funded University out there that pulls some shenanigans like this. Now, you would think that there would be some sort of broad and universal alert sent to the Signing Officials of each University that has an on- and off-campus rate. Telling them to get their act together on this or any future investigation that busts them will automatically have the fines tripled. But going by at least one narrow similar area that I've followed over the past couple of decades (the anti-lobbying / grant writing thing) apparently this does not happen. So keep your eyes peeled for the next decade. I bet there will be more of these and that in each case it will again be figured out only via whistleblower.

46 responses so far

  • Philapodia says:

    This sort of shenanigans happens because most Universities look at IDCs as profit rather than monies to cover actual incurred costs. I'm sure most universities bend the rules here or there, but this was pretty egregious. Hopefully none of the fallout hits your colleagues.

  • Susan says:

    And it was never questioned by reviewers, under Facilities and Equipment?

  • MorganPhD says:

    I'd be shocked if they settled for the full amount stolen.

  • drugmonkey says:

    How would reviewers check IDC rates Susan? Afaik there are no readily accessible sources to pull that info, especially in a multi IDC Univ. not to mention, budget issues such as IDC are not to inform score so really reviewers shouldn't even look at that, to avoid bias.

  • drugmonkey says:

    MPhD- yes one assumes the US Atty offered settlement terms that were attractive versus risking a conviction.

  • Former Technician says:

    Our University is awful at using IDC to cover non-award related operating costs. Bloated bureaucracy. Too many assistant deans and too many of them are JDs.

    IDCs just become a part of the hard money pool.

  • drugmonkey says:

    How do you know this FT?

  • dnadrinker says:

    This is how I'm going to get rich someday. According to the law, the whistleblower gets to keep 15-30% of the settlement. So, something like $1.5 to $3 million. Of course, the whitsleblower probably brought it to a lawyer who is going to take a third. Still, the whistleblower probably walked away with a million dollars at least.

  • SidVic says:

    I'm surprised by your surprise DM, IDC rates are right there on the application. Are not IDC kickbacks to departments, programs, and investigators on your radar?

  • clueless noob says:

    The F&A rate is listed in the application budget but reviewers generally wouldn't have a way to know if it's the correct rate to use. The rate agreement isn't included in the application itself. Even the GMS wouldn't necessarily know -- they get the F&A rate agreement that is provided during JIT but unless there's something obviously screwy with a performance site there probably wouldn't be any red flags about which specific rate is being applied.

    IME PIs (applicants) rely on administration to tell them which rate to use in their budgets. A couple cases of "No, you should use the on-campus rate" from someone in the grants office and pretty soon it's standard practice. It would be a relatively easy mistake to make (altho Columbia looks a little less innocent here).

  • DJMH says:

    Whoa this felt limited to administrator shenanigans right up until
    in lieu of paying rent for use of one of the NYSPI Buildings, the Department of Neuroscience paid NYSPI

    I would think that would mean that the Chair of Neuroscience would know this was going on, no?

  • jmz4 says:

    I just found out it is standard at my iLAF to inflate your salary and funnel IDCs back to your lab as unrestricted funds. Not exactly clear on how it works, but a new Prof mentioned it as an unusual thing.

  • Another Assistant Prof says:

    jmz4, you can't inflate your salary on a grant application. But it's very common for hard-money professors to request salary support from NIH grants in exchange for a kickback from the University for doing so. Maybe that's what you're talking about.

  • Dave says:

    This is not a mistake. I don't this is all that uncommon. Just a matter of who gets caught.

    In any case, it's routine here for them to return a certain % of 'unused' IDCs each year. The hilarious thing about that is it trickles down first through the departments, then the divisions. So of course the dept administrators take the biggest cut for themselves and by the time the division chief gets it there is basically nothing left. No faculty ever see a penny.

    I just found out it is standard at my iLAF to inflate your salary and funnel IDCs back to your lab as unrestricted funds. Not exactly clear on how it works, but a new Prof mentioned it as an unusual thing.

    That's very common, especially on non-federal applications. Nice way to pad the budget.

  • Dave says:

    The question is: where did the money go?

  • Grumble says:

    "I just found out it is standard at my iLAF to inflate your salary and funnel IDCs back to your lab as unrestricted funds. "

    I believe the word for this is "fraud."

  • drugmonkey says:

    Faculty frequently have these sorts of accusations without thinking about how easy it is to launder fungible monies*. Not saying it doesn't happen but usually Universities are somewhat clever. (Then again, the CU case shows that pretty brazen accounting "mistakes" take a long time for discovery.)

    *The famous IDC kickback need only be claimed (accounting wise) to come from other funds, even if clearly based on IDC earning....just so long as you can't prove it comes from the IDC, right?

  • David says:

    "The rate agreement isn't included in the application itself." [clueless noob]

    It is for the apps I see.

    I wonder if fraud like this, and the escalation of IDC in general, would taper if the grants were graded on total costs, not just directs. The grants my organization gives out are total costs, so the higher your university's IDC, the less chance you are to receive a grant from my group. We are working with one group right now that offers three options, the medical school (sky high IDC), an affiliated medical center (medium IDC), and a new biomedical foundation (very low IDC). Guess which group gets the credit for this project. The dumb part, the research is done at the same lab regardless of which letterhead they use.

  • jmz4 says:

    "But it's very common for hard-money professors to request salary support from NIH grants in exchange for a kickback from the University for doing so. Maybe that's what you're talking about."
    -Yeah, I think that is what he meant by "inflating" the salary (e.g. they pay him 100k, and list his salary as 200k). So basically they are gaming the system to get the max salary support out of the NIH, thus maximizing IDCs, while not compromising the actual funding going to the lab?
    So that's shady, but technically allowable?

  • Dave says:

    One of the problems here is that university accounting is notoriously opaque. Again, where did that extra money go that Columbia collected? They have agreed to pay back $9.5M, so there should have been that much at least floating around in the coffers for years, right? My guess is the money swindled was way more than that.

  • clueless noob says:

    "It is for the apps I see." [David]

    The F&A rate agreement definitely is not included in the ones I submit, just the rate, cognizant agency, and rate agreement date. I suppose they could add it at NIH from their rate agreement database. We only provide it at the JIT stage, although maybe that's because they've been trying to negotiate it up in the past few years.

    Regarding "salary inflation", are there institutions that allow hard money faculty to submit NIH grant proposals *without* requesting salary support? Around here 0% effort is basically forbidden as a form of voluntary uncommitted cost sharing, which coincidentally doesn't earn F&A. The salary that goes into proposals is my current contract salary, unless I can get a letter from my department chair to the dean, cc-ing the grants office, stating that I will be getting a raise on such-and-such a date. Otherwise the most I can do is request inflationary increases in the out years. I thought this was pretty standard but maybe not.

  • David says:

    Noon, I think it is the difference between NIH grading on direct costs and some other agencies grading on total cost. I need to see the IDCs and you don't. Makes sense that one package includes them and the other doesn't.

    Also, cost sharing isn't allowed? If true, that is another difference where I work. We actively encourage cost sharing and regularly accept salary support as a means.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    NSF, NASA, DOE, etc grant proposals and awards all show overhead by percentage as negotiated and amount as a line item in the budgets which makes it amusing for non NIH folks to have much sympathy for the PIs in this case. As to what happens to the indirect cost money paid by the government, once the check hits the Uni bank account, distribution is up to the Uni.

    Where it gets interesting is what the Government accepts as the cost basis in the negotiation of the rates, for example how much of the library/IT cost is assigned to research, administrative expenses (e.g. the President's salary) etc.

    As to salary expenses assigned to a grant, this gets deep into the mysteries of an institutional base salary. For example, no one can be paid 100% on grants, because then they could not spend any time writing grants given that time spent writing grants cannot be charged to the Government

  • Grumble says:

    "e.g. they pay him 100k, and list his salary as 200k"

    INAL, but I can't see how this is possibly legal. Saying your salary is $200k when you are paid only $100k is outright lying. If you make that statement in order to collect more IDCs, it is lying with intent to defraud the government.

    Getting part of the IDCs on your salary returned as a source of funds to be used for research expenses (other than your own salary) is a different story. As DM pointed out, money is fungible, so the college can always claim it came from some other pot than IDCs. As far as I'm aware, the practice is pretty common because it encourages faculty to obtain salary support that goes beyond what the college requires (e.g., if it requires you to cover 50% of your salary and you cover 75%, you get the IDCs on the extra 25% kicked back to your lab). In fact I just got my first kickback last year, and should get another one this year.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Grumble- I can't see how it is possibly legal either. From an accounting perspective there is almost certainty that they have better cover than this!

    Eli- NIH grants show the IDC rate too. In the case of the CU scam, someone would have to know that there was a different rate negotiated for a different effective performance site AND that the work was being done 50% or more at that performance site. That is the stuff that doesn't necessarily appear in the grant proposal itself.

    Dave-
    They have agreed to pay back $9.5M, so there should have been that much at least floating around in the coffers for years, right? My guess is the money swindled was way more than that.
    Of course. it is a settlement. Some 423 grants were involved. but it is hard to parse Exhibit A of the settlement to see how many individual funded years. Some are specified with year codes, some not. Some have identifiers that look like subcontracts with other primary institutions. Impossible to know the scope of direct costs. Let's suppose it was $100K average per listed line item. multiply by 423, use the 31.6% IDC differential and I'm at $13M. If you assume all of the clearly-NIH codes are all direct to CU and mostly R01s...well that per-item has to be at least $200K. If a given line item that doesn't include a year identifier refers to all 5 years allowed for a single award....$1M+. Big frigging range of potential fraud.

  • dnadrinker says:

    Columbia paid $9 million a few years ago, after a similar qui tam suit for their AIDS research center. This was their problem then:

    "The problem stemmed from the fact that these reports were not created by or verified by the individuals to whom they applied. Instead, the university’s finance department provided the information for these reports even though the employees of that department had limited or no knowledge as to which grants they actually worked on. The effort reports were certified as correct by the principal investigators on the grants despite the absence of verification. In one instance, an ICAP finance analyst stated that he spent approximately 15% to 20% of his time on the Multi-Country Columbia Antiretroviral Program (“MCAP”) grant in 2010, but his effort was falsely reported as amounting to 85% of his time. Similarly, an ICAP subcontract manager’s effort report indicated that her effort was 100% devoted to MCAP while she actually worked on three other grants, in addition to MCAP, throughout the year. ICAP also charged federal grants for time spent on activities that were not allowed to be charged to the grants, such as time spent on competitive grant proposal writing. One grants manager spent the majority of her time writing competitive grant proposals, but her effort report indicated that all of her time was charged to grants, with as much as 92% of her time charged to MCAP in some years. These problems were further compounded because the principal investigators would routinely certify a significant number of effort reports at a time." --That's from a blog about the issue.

    There's also a page from the US attorney about that case. Google "manhattan-us-attorney-settles-civil-fraud-claims-against-columbia-university" to find it.

  • dnadrinker says:

    Grumble: you don't need to obscure how you spend IDC money (indirect cost return). That money is reimbursements for already incurred indirect costs.

    The IDC kickbacks you get are unrestricted and not regulated by the federal government.

    There's a whole separate negotiation where the university and NIH (or sometimes ONR, depends on the university) negotiate the indirect cost rate. That's where they will debate whether any particular expense should be included in the indirect pool, which goes into the calculation of the indirect cost rate.

  • MorganPhD says:

    Certainly, if the NIH decides to audit how faculty actually spend their time VS how it is written in a grant proposal, we'd all be in trouble...

  • Dave says:

    True that

  • Grumble says:

    @DNAD: "The IDC kickbacks you get are unrestricted and not regulated by the federal government."

    Interesting. I'm not sure why the government doesn't care, though. I mean, as you point out, the IDC rate is negotiated, and the government basically agrees that the college's F&A expenses per grant dollar are X%. Those expenses presumably don't include converting some IDCs to DCs. So the next time the IDC rate is negotiated, shouldn't the government say, "You spent 10% [or whatever] of your X% IDC rate on DCs, so clearly you didn't need to spend your IDC funds on F&A, so your IDC rate is too high, so we are going to reduce it to X-10%"?

  • Grumble says:

    "Certainly, if the NIH decides to audit how faculty actually spend their time VS how it is written in a grant proposal, we'd all be in trouble..."

    Yet more ways in which scientists, whose vocation and reason for existence is to find the truth, are forced to lie on a regular basis just to get anything done.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yet more ways in which scientists, whose vocation and reason for existence is to find the truth, are forced to lie on a regular basis just to get anything done.

    I think we need to parse two things that CU was doing wrong that dnadrinker refers to.

    ICAP also charged federal grants for time spent on activities that were not allowed to be charged to the grants, such as time spent on competitive grant proposal writing.

    This is very clearly wrong and the anti-lobbying idea that is behind it has an additional ethical element, in my view. I don't know how to solve it in a practical sense. Whenever I've heard of an applicant institution getting busted for 100% salary coverage of clearly grant-writing PIs, the negotiated solution appears to be putting 5% salary on non-federal accounts*. This then downshifts to the usual argument over how to account for percent effort of intellectual behavior from PIs who are putting in more than 40 h a week on their job. Also how to determine relative contribution of a thought or data analysis to a grant vs general scientific understanding under that project vs paper production vs... etc. Finally, I've never heard of this devolving down to trying to figure out when other staff, e.g., postdocs, are helping with grant preparation (and presumably F32 or K99/R00 apps count in this?). This is an added complexity.

    In one instance, an ICAP finance analyst stated that he spent approximately 15% to 20% of his time on the Multi-Country Columbia Antiretroviral Program (“MCAP”) grant in 2010, but his effort was falsely reported as amounting to 85% of his time. Similarly, an ICAP subcontract manager’s effort report indicated that her effort was 100% devoted to MCAP while she actually worked on three other grants, in addition to MCAP, throughout the year.

    Here we get back to Grumble's main point, I assume. PIs have very little interest in micro-accounting for precise time spent by their technicians or trainees on every funded project. Given that efforts may contribute to multiple projects at once (developing and validating an assay used in more than one grant, say) or that a single person could be timesharing during the day or week on various projects... it would be a nightmare. Even though I know this is wrong, my view is that it is far less of a problem when all of your grants come from the NIH and even less of a problem when they are all from the same IC. All from the same US Gov, even when it varies across CDC, USDOA, NSF, NIH, DOD or whatever....score me as unconcerned. Again, even though I know technically that it is probably just as bad as what I see as the RealProblem. I.e., I can see where the NIH should be much more concerned when your funding may come partially from non-NIH sources and you are charging the NIH for work on that other non-federal entity's project. ...and I think it is really, really super bad when that project is funded by a for-profit entity.

    ...anyway, that is how I excuse my disinterest in precise time accounting to myself.

    *Not sure what a given PI could do if they were righteously angered by this negotiated solution and insisting that since they spend 20%** of their time grant writing this should be paid institutionally. If the Fed investigators and the Uni mutually agree*** that this fig leaf is acceptable, how in the hell is one PI going to budge the needle?

    **Yes, yes, 100%, o ye wags of science

    ***I don't know what you do if your Uni hasn't been busted yet**** either. I have been there in times past and have directly confronted top echelon brass about the anti-lobbying thing. I was told it was not an issue at that time.

    ****Over the past several decades I've become aware of the one-by-one approach from the Fed. As in every few years one hears of yet another University being busted for this and negotiating a PI effort solution. It is unclear to me why there would not be a broad sweeping pronouncement of some sort coupled to a threat of increased and immediate penalties should any applicant institution be found in violation in the future. I see the same in this IDC issue that CU has just been nailed for.

  • Grumble says:

    The 5% effort fig leaf is patently absurd. Let's say I finally get tenure. Let's say I then go tell my chair and dean, "look, by my measure, I am spending 75% of my time writing grants, and I insist that I will no longer lie on my effort reports." What are they going to do? Fire me? So that I can then (a) sue the college with AAUP support, and (b) blow the whistle to the NIH, the FBI, and the AG?

    The situation is untenable, and I am surprised that it hasn't blown up more spectacularly. All it will take is one faculty taking a principled stand (and a federal AG willing to pursue the case). Of course, no one wants to get personally embroiled in something like this - unless you have some beef against the college and want to get back at them in royal fashion. Or want a whistleblower's cut of the settlement. Seems to me like it's just a matter of time.

  • jmz4 says:

    "What are they going to do?"
    -Tell you that you're clearly riff-raff. Real scientists write grants stream of consciousness the night before they are due.

  • JL says:

    "What are they going to do?"
    Tell you to not spend 75% of your time writing grants. Tell you that you should not certify to the government anything but the truth. Why do you think it is the PIs who do the effort certification? It's not because we know how we spend the time. It's because it's our neck on the line.

    Easy answer for the brass: "Have you been lying to the government Grumble? I'm shocked!"

    As jmz4 wrote, RealScientists(TM) don't need 75% of their time writing grants.

    I am curious of something: if some of the indirects that Columbua charged were as subcontracts. Doesn't that mean that they swindled funds from direct costs to those other institutions? Why is money only going back to NIH? I also wonder if there are any heads rolling at Columbia over this, or if this is like with financial institutions something that the company covers the cost and everyone involved still gets a fat bonus.

  • DJMH says:

    Next time I have to certify % effort, I'm gonna put down 8% time spent blog-reading.

    Then charge it to the K99 I got through blog-reading.

  • Grumble says:

    I'm gonna put that I spent 20% of my time blog commenting.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    That goes under outreach and us chargeable to grants.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Oh yeah if you claim 75% to grant writing, next year your IBS goes down by 75%

  • dnadrinker says:

    I see lots of jokes about this, but isn't this a serious issue that, if properly enforced, could go a long way towards solving a big problem. The problem being the lack of institutional support for biomedical research and the complete reliance on NIH to fund everything, including writing NIH grants.

    You could make an argument that everything in an NIH proposal, including all unpublished data, is being produced for the purpose of writing the NIH proposal. The costs of the reagents, people, etc should all be borne by the organization applying for the grant. There's no way you could have one person just sit down with no supporting data and expect to write a competitive proposal.

    Even if you are getting 5% salary as institutional support, that's about 100 hours per year you have to work on a proposal. (Lawyers are really good at counting hours. Normal workload is 2000 hours/year, maybe someone can do 3000 hours/year, but that's not sustainable. No one can work 5000 hours/year.)

    How long does it take to write an R01 grant? At least 100 hours, maybe 200 hours. So, anyone submitting more than 1 R01 grant a year on 95% governement support is defrauding the government.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The problem being the lack of institutional support for biomedical research and the complete reliance on NIH to fund everything, including writing NIH grants.

    Nope. As per frickin usual, you seem to imagine some magical wagical pot of leprechaun gold that Universities are just sitting on because NIH is so stupid and foolish as to not force them, FORCE I SAY, to spend it on "institutional support for" the NIH's desired product.

    You could make an argument that everything in an NIH proposal, including all unpublished data, is being produced for the purpose of writing the NIH proposal. The costs of the reagents, people, etc should all be borne by the organization applying for the grant.

    By this argument there is no more federal funding for science. The nature of ongoing research programs is, inevitably, that prior results form a large part of the argument for the next round of funding. I cite my published papers liberally in grant proposals. These papers are *the* product of the grants that funded them. Therefore, by your argument, all successful lobbying of the NIH for funding in my laboratory is contaminated by prior NIH funding. I am far from alone in this.

    How long does it take to write an R01 grant? At least 100 hours, maybe 200 hours. So, anyone submitting more than 1 R01 grant a year on 95% governement support is defrauding the government.
    It doesn't take me anywhere near this amount of time to write the parts* of an R01 that are absolutely 100% indefensible as anything other than preparing that grant proposal. Not even close. The vast majority of the time is spent on multi-purpose activities. Text I write as background and significance turns up in manuscripts Intros, Discussions and in review articles. I may be somewhat unusual but, gee, the experiments that I sketch out in the proposal are ones that we actually conduct- planning them out in detail is a dual-purpose behavior. Data that we include as "Preliminary Data" frequently ends up in a publication or at least forms critical pilot investigations that lead to publishable experiments. Multipurpose stuff. Forging collaborations? Ditto. Heck, even budgeting out a plan of research gives me a back of the head running input to our future research priorities under one funded project or another.

    Given that the government is paying grant awards precisely to fund us to dream up, conduct and report science, how exactly is engaging in this "defrauding" the government?

    *btw, administrative support is not charged to most research grants (some mechs allow administration for those projects). That means everything my admin does to push paper and fill out the fricken forms associated with a grant submission is being paid by my institution, not by the NIH. Depending on how much some PIs out there are supported by admins to keep track of paperwork perhaps this is an area for local complaining about the 5% figleaf.

  • dnadrinker says:

    DM, some PIs draw 100% of their salary from non-federal funds, so it's not unreasonable to say all PIs should have 100% from non-federal funds. Would it significantly alter biomedical research organizations? Yes, yes it would.

    I'm not dreaming up a magical pot of gold. If the existing policy were enforced, it would just deleverage universities. I have no doubt that the 100% hard money people could write enough proposals to adequately deploy all the NIH money. Science would go on, but NIH money would no longer support PIs who spend their time writing NIH grants.

    Of course, I understand the dual use argument, that's what I tell myslef, but my point is that the other side is a perfectly reasonable argument also.

    What do you think happens if you go in front of a judge and jury? They look at documents. They'll look at your NIH proposal and see all this text and data. It's a pretty easy case to make that you performed those experiments specifically to obtain a new NIH grant and costs associated with producing everything in that proposal shouldn't be charged to an existing NIH grant.

    You can make your dual purpose argument, "I'm going to use that text in an article I'm publishing next year".

    I think the other argument wins. Just saying.

  • drugmonkey says:

    some PIs draw 100% of their salary from non-federal funds, so it's not unreasonable to say all PIs should have 100% from non-federal funds.

    Some PIs draw 100% (ok, 95%) of their salary from federal funds so it is not unreasonable to say that all PIs on federal grants should have 100% (ok, 95%) from federal funds.

    I'm not dreaming up a magical pot of gold... I have no doubt that the 100% hard money people could write enough proposals to adequately deploy all the NIH money.

    You have literally no idea what you are talking about, do you? No idea what is going on with local university budgets, state funded and otherwise. No idea of the scope of the NIH enterprise and the participants thereof. Yes, the NIH could certainly give all of the awards to the 100% hard money funded Professoriat. But the notion that this tiny fraction of the current PIs could "adequately deploy" these funds is ridiculous. The only way it could possibly work is if these hard money profs pay all these suddenly unfundable soft money profs to do the work...out of their grants' direct costs.

    my point is that the other side is a perfectly reasonable argument also.
    No, it really isn't. Unless you construe each research project going to a research group that has no prior investigation in a topic area (none. no methods, no data, no nothin) that has been funded by a federal grant. It is patently absurd to say there is another side with a reasonable argument. As per the above, the NIH would rapidly run out of PIs that qualify for this purity of lobbying.

    It's a pretty easy case to make that you performed those experiments specifically to obtain a new NIH grant and costs associated with producing everything in that proposal shouldn't be charged to an existing NIH grant.
    It is also a very easy case to make that I performed those experiments in the course of pursuing the science that I felt was most important or interesting and they just so happen to be useful in a grant. That's what I just outlined for you above. The reason that it is convincing is that it is true. You'd be pretty hard pressed to show one thing in my (very large stack of) grant applications, preliminary data wise, that was exclusively in there to enhance the grant proposal.

    I think the other argument wins.
    Exactly. You have a pre-existing position on this and so you pick which side wins without actually evaluating the opposing argument and your own on equal terms.

  • Ken says:

    All you folks that are bashing Columbia administration are missing some important facts: 1) The federal government is the one that sets the rules for indirect cost reimbursement, 2) the rules, in some cases, are more complex than the tax code, 3) it's not profit or surplus - indirect cost is reimbursement for state of the art lab space, compliance costs (e.g, human subjects, lab safety, etc.), and 4) it never was about fraud - the optics of this are bad, but the technical treatment of these NIH awards in the indirect cost rate calculation made this approach permissible. Bottom line, university administration and faculty need to be supporting one another ... picking fights and scapegoats does nothing to help science.

  • drugmonkey says:

    So if this was all a big misunderstanding and Columbia had no ill intent, why did they settle for such a princely sum? Why did they agree to a settlement that uses language that clearly blames them for illegal stuff?

  • Bagger Vance says:

    "university administration and faculty need to be supporting one another "?

    Haven't we all seen or heard the growth of one over the other? Here's one: "Even more strikingly, an analysis by a professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, found that, while the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221 percent increase."

    So, the host and the parasite need to be "supporting one another".

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