Thursday, August 18, 2005
The August 17 Wall Street Journal (requires paid subscription) ran a front-page story on a suit against Cornell and 11 senior faculty for allegedly misusing NIH funds. The suit -- apparently a civil False Claims Act suit by a pediatrician at Cornell -- claimed that the money (which was intended to pay for nursing care for children enrolled in research studies) was diverted to pay for care for paying patients and for adults, and that some of the claimed studies were actually "phantom" studies. Cornell settled with the government for $4.4 million.
The article suggests this is only the tip of the iceberg:
The Cornell case exposes what some scientists call a dirty little secret of university medical research: the misuse of taxpayers' funds. The NIH last year funneled $20 billion to campus researchers, an amount that has doubled since the late 1990s. Now, a string of multimillion-dollar settlements by leading universities is showing how vulnerable the system has become to abuse.
Since the beginning of 2003, Northwestern University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham have agreed to civil settlements. In each case, the government alleged that the universities pledged to do one thing with their NIH money and then spent it on something else. This spring, the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., agreed to pay $6.5 million to settle charges it diverted money from one grant to other grants running short of funds. The institutions agreed to upgrade their accounting practices, but admitted no wrongdoing. All the cases except Harvard's began with whistleblowers; Harvard itself first alerted authorities to potential problems.