An audit of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) in November by the National Science Foundation (NSF) inspector general and the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) revealed that spending at the Colorado-based non-profit group is out of control. The NSF OIG Audit Report reviewed the spending of over $150 million of taxpayers’ money by NEON from September 2012 to April 2013. The DCAA found that NEON billed NSF for normally unallowable costs for entertainment, lobbying, and alcohol:
- $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
- $112,000 for lobbying
- $150 million in questionable construction costs
The NSF OIG Audit Report states:
Given the present lack of controls, there is virtually no accountability over the contingency funds, either at the expenditure phase or at the estimating phase. NSF does not have sufficient safeguards over the significant and unsupported contingency costs included in NEON’s award budget.
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DCAA also concluded that there is a need for NSF to improve accountability over its policy on reporting fraud, waste, and abuse.
The NEON website describes the non-profit group:
NEON is a large facility project managed by NEON, Inc. and funded by the National Science Foundation. NEON is a proposed continental-scale research platform for discovering and understanding the impacts of climate change, land-use change, and invasive species on ecology. NEON will gather long-term data on ecological responses of the biosphere to changes in land use and climate, and on feedbacks with the geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere.
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Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released a report in 2011 identifying more than $1.2 billion in losses from waste, fraud, duplication, and mismanagement at the NSF. This included:
- $80,000 to study why the same college basketball teams always dominate March Madness;
- $1 million for an analysis of how quickly parents respond to trendy baby names;
- $581,000 on whether online dating site users are racist;
- $2 million to figure out that people who often post pictures on the Internet from the same location at the same time are usually friends.
(h/t: Fox News)
Image credit: Fox News Channel screenshot
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