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E&C Republicans Probe NIH Over Misallocated Funds and Grant Oversight


11.21.22

Members Seek Information Regarding Research Projects Skirting Disclosure and Compliance Safeguards

Washington, D.C. — House Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Subcommittee on Health Republican Leader Brett Guthrie (R-KY), and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Republican Leader Morgan Griffith (R-VA) today sent a letter to National Institutes of Health (NIH) Senior Official Lawrence Tabak requesting information related to NIH’s handling of grant audits related to misallocated funds. 

KEY EXCERPT: “According to the NIH website, the NIH’s Office of Management Assessment (OMA) provides broad management oversight and advice to the NIH Director on program integrity, risk management, and management support systems that safeguard agency assets, preserve public trust in NIH, and provide an administrative infrastructure for the agency.  As part of these responsibilities, OMA conducts audits and provides audit findings and recommendations to institutes and centers.  We are interested in learning more about how, and to what extent, institutes and centers are implementing audit recommendations related to misallocated funds. 

“In addition, the NIH apparently has a significant number of grants of low or de minimis value ($1,000 or less) that have been awarded. Based on a Minority committee staff search of the NIH Reporter system, there are 348 grants in this low dollar category ($1,000 or less). 

[…] 

These low dollar awards have the effect of establishing a relationship between an entity and NIH but with no apparent research value associated with the award itself.  It is our understanding from reviewing the terms of NIH grant documents that, unless the funds are drawn, the NIH protections, reporting requirements, and activity limitations do not apply to the grantee. So, the recipient appears to gain the benefit from its association with the NIH without the burden of the requirements. This may pose a risk to NIH, both in reputation and compliance. 

Specifically, the members asked for responses to the following questions by December 7, 2022:  

  1. Since January 1, 2015, how many audits have been conducted by OMA?
  2. Since January 1, 2015, how many audits have been conducted by OMA and identified a misallocation of funds in an award?
  3. Since January 1, 2015, how many referrals of audit findings have been made by OMA to institutes and centers? Please specify the number and nature of audit findings for each institute and center.
  4. What are the potential actions that an institute or center can take on an audit finding?
  5. What was the total amount of funds that OMA found in which NIH was entitled to recovery?
  6. Out of that total amount of funds that OMA found in which NIH was entitled to recovery, what was the total amount of funds actually recovered?
  7. How frequently are awards audited, and how is the frequency determined?
  8. How many recommendations did OMA make to the institutes and centers, and how many recommendations were implemented?
  9. Please produce the results of searching for NIH grants $1,000 or less in the eRA Commons system.
  10. Has OMA conducted its own search of low value NIH grants? If so, when and why? What were the results?
  11. How many low dollar grants are currently active? What is the purpose of low dollar grants?
  12. Are all the U.S. entities listed as low dollar grant recipients owned and controlled by U.S. persons?
  13. Why are there low dollar grants? Is it an end around some law, regulation, or Congressional requirement? Is it some administrative mechanism created to enable some activity?
  14. What benefit to NIH is there from low dollar grants? Are there any trends to suggest a lack of impartiality on the part of awards? Is this process being exploited and by whom (perhaps nation states)?
  15. What is the risk to NIH in such affiliations if in fact awardees are not beholden to the grants policy statement unless they draw the funds?
  16. Please identify the sub-awardees and explain why there is a sub-awardee on such a small award.

CLICK HERE to read the full letter.

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