Tags: UC-Berkeley | taxpayer funds | misused | travel | alcohol

Audit: UC-Berkeley Misused Funds on Staff Pay, Travel, Booze

By    |   Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 10:01 AM

The University of California-Berkeley improperly spent nearly $2 million in taxpayer funds that it received from the National Science Foundation (NSF) on staff salaries, travel expenses, and alcohol, according to an agency audit released in March.

The audit concentrated on approximately $379 million in costs that were reported to NSF during the period of Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2012.

"Of the $379 million in the universe, our audit questioned $1,863,351 of costs claimed on 97 NSF awards because UC-Berkeley did not comply with federal and NSF award requirements," said the report issued March 31 by the agency's Office of Inspector General (OIG).

They noted $1,608,944 in senior personnel salary, fringe benefits, and applicable overhead that exceeded NSF's two month limit, as well as $15,451 in unallowable meal expenditures; $9,904 in unreasonable travel; $6,997 in unsupportable and unallowable immigration fees.

According to the OIG, the university was selected because it is one of the largest recipients of NSF award dollars. Of the $730.7 million that was awarded to Berkeley in FY2014, the federal government provided 66 percent of that funding with private and state government sources accounting for the remainder.

Berkeley agreed with some of the report's findings, but took issue with salary overcharges that resulted from lack of effective monitoring, contending that NSF policies and subsequent guidance from the Foundation were not clear.

Auditors determined that the university overcharged for $1,608,944 in salary, fringe benefits and overhead, which, the report said would not have occurred had "UC-Berkeley effectively monitored their senior personnel salary costs" and relied on "an informal November 2010 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document on Proposal Preparation and Award Administration" for guidance.

NSF policy places a limit on the percentage of the grants that may be appropriated for senior researcher's salary and generally considers research to be "one of the normal functions" of a university staff member's profession, according to The Washington Free Beacon, which was the first to report the audit's findings.

In addition to overspending on researcher salaries, NSF auditors said the university submitted an improper reimbursement request of $10,418 "for various unallowable alcohol related charges," as well as $741 charged to one award for meals that were not an integral or necessary part of a conference.

Berkeley also racked up $2,204 in charges for four catered meals that were not included in the budget; and $2,088 to host a holiday dinner. UC-Berkeley agreed the costs should be repaid.

While it was not included in the original grant application, the audit unearthed an unapproved purchase of a laser system that they found to be imprudent.

"Specifically, because this purchase represents a significant reduction in the funds necessary to complete the proposed research tasks, we question whether a prudent person would have spent more than 33 percent of the total funding approved for the project on additional equipment. With such a significant portion of the approved funding allocated to this equipment purchase we question whether UC-Berkeley could accomplish the research project approved by NSF, thus potentially changing the scope of the funded research," said the report, which omitted the actual cost of the laser system.

Despite the questionable expenses and ineffective financial management mechanisms, UC-Berkeley researchers were recently awarded a $5.8 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop tools to quickly spot and identify drug-resistant pathogens, according to a university press release.

In another NSF report released on March 31, the OIG found that the University of Wisconsin-Madison submitted questionable requests for payment totaling $1,669,588, including $1,276,668 in senior personnel salary that exceeded NSF's two-month limit and $192,707 of "unreasonably allocated leave accrual payouts."

The audit further identified $30,107 of unallowable relocation expenses; and $7,360 of unreasonable travel expenses.

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The University of California-Berkeley improperly spent nearly $2 million in taxpayer funds that it received from the National Science Foundation (NSF) on staff salaries, travel expenses and alcohol, according to an agency audit released in March.
UC-Berkeley, taxpayer funds, misused, travel, alcohol
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2015-01-29
Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 10:01 AM
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