Rampant Waste Reported in NSF | Citizens Against Government Waste

Rampant Waste Reported in NSF

The WasteWatcher

A report was released on May 26, 2011 by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that exposed wasteful spending at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The report found $3 billion in mismanagement, with more than $1.2 billion of NSF’s total budget of $6.9 billion for fiscal year 2010 squandered due to waste, fraud, and duplication.

Congress created NSF in 1950 to fund basic research projects. The agency currently funds 20 percent of federally supported research performed by colleges and universities and 60 percent of non-biomedical research. Among other findings, Sen. Coburn’s report revealed $65 million in taxpayer money wasted on “silly” and “dumb” projects such as $1.5 million to build a laundry-folding robot with the ability to fold a towel in 25 minutes, $500,000 to study shrimp running on a treadmill, and $300,000 to study personal relationships built through FarmVille on Facebook. The report found that members of Congress also benefit from NSF research, including studies on “what motivates individuals to make political donations, how politicians can benefit from Internet town halls, the impact of YouTube on the 2008 U.S. elections, and how politicians use the Internet.”

NSF is not lacking funds. The agency is currently holding $1.7 billion in expired grant money, which is supposed to be returned to the Department of Treasury. Sen. Coburn’s report states that the expired grant money means less for “research and contributes to our already excessive debt problem,” and calls into question the need for NSF’s request for a $1 billion increase in funding.

Sen. Coburn discovered $19 million lost to fraud by employees, universities, and contractors as well as numerous examples of fraudulent behavior. For example, a Georgia university used funds to take students bowling and to amusement parks. In another instance, two employees were allowed to continue at NSF after they were caught spending $144,152 in taxpayer money for 47 romantic vacations. The report found that NSF has failed to seriously reprimand this behavior.

Some problems at NSF stem from a lack of oversight, which has resulted in questions regarding whether research conducted at the foundation truly contributes to its stated goals of furthering science, advancing medicine, and safeguarding the national defense. There were 151,000 required annual reports in the past five years, but 47 percent were submitted late or were never completed. In that same five years, there were 43,000 final project reports; 8 percent were never submitted and 53 percent were submitted five months late.

The Coburn report uncovered proposals being submitted to multiple federal agencies for funding; with 17 other agencies currently conducting scientific research and development, repetition in projects has become a serious problem. For example, NSF currently finances research in the areas of energy and climate change, which is redundant of projects in the Department of Energy. According to Sen. Coburn’s report, $1.9 billion of NSF’s funding has been wasted on duplication.

During this time of budget deficits and economic downturn, NSF continues to waste taxpayer money on frivolous research. NSF has an impressive history of producing valuable research with the development of the internet, barcodes and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), but the Coburn report found that billions in current funds are being channeled away from innovative projects. Without improvements to oversight and accountability, rampant spending on insignificant research will continue.

Jacqueline Carlton

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