The audit, conducted by the NSF inspector general and the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), detailed spending irregularities by the Colorado-based NEON, a nonprofit company, designed to operate a network of ecological observatories across the U.S. which is solely funded by the NSF's taxpayer supplied dollars.
The report (embedded below) found that spending at the group has gotten out of control.
DCAA reviewed NEON’s use of management fee from 9/20/12 to mid-April 2013 and found that NEON billed NSF for such normally unallowable costs as $25,000 for a Christmas party, $11,000 for coffee services for employees, $3,000 for Board of Director dinners (which included alcohol), $3,000 for t-shirts and other apparel for Contractor employees, $83,000 for “business development,” and $112,000 for lobbying.These expenses were paid out the contingency budget ($74.2 million) which is part of NEON's grant from NSF.
Given the present lack of controls, there is virtually no accountability over the contingency funds ... NSF does not have sufficient safeguards over the significant and unsupported contingency costs included in NEON's award budget.According to Fox News, the audit stemmed from concerns dating back to 2012 over a NEON construction budget, where more than $150 million in costs were questioned.
At a Congressional hearing discussing the audit held Wednesday, Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) asked:
Why did NSF allow this to happen?. The NSF needs to be held accountable for how they spend taxpayers' hard-earned dollars.Though it wasn't in the IG report, Smith also alleged trips to a "high-end resort in France."
The total this audit found $237K in wasted taxpayer dollars for just one NSF vendor. Just imagine what an audit of all NSF vendors would turn up.
And that doesn't even count programs like the ones turned up by Senator Coburn in October 2013 such as:
- Funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the development of “Snooki,” a robot bird that impersonates a female sage grouse to examine the importance of courtship tactics of males.
- Funding for an NSF grant that studies Americans’ attitudes towards the U.S. Senate filibuster
- NSF grant to SiteJabber.com, a new website to rate the trustworthiness of other websites
- NSF grant funding to EcoATM, a company commercializing an “ATM” to give out cash in exchange for old cell phones and other electronics
- NSF grant paying for participants’ expenses to attend an annual snowmobile competition in Michigan through 2015
- NSF grant paying for meditation and self-reflection for math, science, and engineering majors
- Four-year NSF grant that funds displays along the six Indianapolis waterways, used to display paintings about Indianapolis’s water system.