UF misappropriated grant money from National Science Foundation, audit claims
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UF misappropriated grant money from National Science Foundation, audit claims

From Cindy Swirko, Gainesville Sun, August 29, 2021

Flying business-class and $300 bartender fees were a few of the instances of University of Florida misappropriation of money granted by the National Science Foundation, an audit shows.

The audit done for the foundation contends that $640,723 had been inappropriately claimed between Oct. 1, 2016, and Sept. 31, 2019. The audit was the most recent for UF.

UF has contested many of the findings but has agreed to reimburse the foundation for some of the expenses.

The value of the items cited in the audit is a small fraction of the $137 million awarded to UF for research during the time period that was audited.

Still, the audit includes recommendations for how UF can improve its procedures for spending foundation money to ensure it is within the rules.

“UF did not have sufficient policies/procedures and internal controls in place to ensure that it only charged allowable expenses to NSF awards,” the audit states.

The bulk of the money — $412,363 — was in a category of UF failing to get foundation approval before transferring research with the awarded money to other institutions.

UF contends it did nothing wrong in this category.

“UF does not concur with this finding or the auditor's recommendation to repay the questioned costs of $412,363,” UF wrote. “The funding was expended as proposed for the benefit of the projects in question and the research was coordinated and conducted by the key personnel named in the original proposal.”

The audit found $113,816 in the category of unallowable expenses and $112,827 in inappropriately allocated expenses.

Among them were $3,856 for food and beverages to UF employees at a workshop, including $300 in bartender fees; and $6,584 for business-class airfare and $1,255 in lodging for an “accompanying person” whose travel did not relate to the work.

Auditors found several instances of grant money being inappropriately used to cover salary or fringe benefit expenses.

Also noted were several instances of travel or conference registration fees for people who did not attend the foundation-sponsored events.

UF reimbursed the foundation for these expenses.

UF’s Vice President for Research David Norton said in an email statement to The Sun that the university disagreed with findings totaling $542,816.

“At present, UF is in the audit resolution process with the (foundation), where we seek to resolve these disputed findings,” he said. “Several of the findings on which UF agreed were addressed previously or post-audit by improved policy.”

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