Univ. reviews accounting

For months, Yale has been the target of a sweeping federal investigation into the management of its federal research grant funding, and top University officials say they have stepped up ongoing efforts to bring their reporting practices up to date.

The investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — representing the National Institute of Health, the Department of Defense, and the National Science Foundation — focuses on 47 grants and contracts totaling $45 million and encompasses research in 14 departments. While the General Counsel’s Office continues to represent Yale in the grant investigation, the University created the Office of Research Administration in July to improve best practices in complying with grant contract rules. The new office also currently oversees a “100-Day Plan” launched last month with the stated purpose of educating the Yale community with regard to necessary grant-related accounting practices.

Yale President Richard Levin said that although the University has to compile a large quantity of documents requested by the agencies, the reporting process is well underway.

“The amount of documents that have been requested by the federal government amounts to … hundreds of thousands, even millions of pages,” Levin said. “We’ve really gotten a substantial part of this under our belts at this point.”

Still, Yale Director of Federal Relations Richard Jacob said the investigation has not strained relations between the University and the government agencies. The interviews conducted by government officials regarding Yale’s research grants have been largely with administrators, General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the National Science Foundation declined to comment on the issue, citing their respective policies on ongoing investigations.

The Office of Research Administration will be led by Associate Vice President for Research Administration Andrew Rudczynski, who previously served as associate vice president for finance and executive director of research services at the University of Pennsylvania. Similar offices operate at Cornell, Harvard and Stanford universities.

The 100-Day Plan is designed to streamline accounting practices so that all charges to federally funded accounts are transparent and individuals responsible for monitoring compliance with contract terms have clearly delineated roles. The plan also stipulates that the University will begin using the electronic system SciQuest as its core tool for purchasing science materials. Levin, Provost Andrew Hamilton, and Vice President for Finance and Administration Shauna King have met with faculty and business managers to discuss the plan.

The results of the work will bring Yale in line with other universities that evaluate their grant oversight procedures, Rudczynski said.

“It’s a process that a lot of institutions go through,” he said. “It’s not unusual for an institution to undertake an evaluation of the way it does business. We have to have systemic ways to address some of the questions that may arise.”

Yale began working with the business consulting organization Huron Consulting Group last September in an effort to upgrade its accounting practices. Since then, the organization reviewed the research administration environment at Yale and presented recommendations to University officers, Huron managing director Laura Yaeger said. Huron continues to work with Yale staff members on the 100-Day Plan, Yaeger said.

Since Yale is among a select group of American universities that are regular recipients of research grants, a potential error in expense reporting would likely not have an adverse effect on future funding, said Neal McCluskey, an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

“There is a relatively small group of schools that are very well tapped into federal research money, and Yale is one of them,” McCluskey said. “The membership of this group doesn’t change too often, and I doubt Yale failing to account for [approximately] $200,000 out of $350 million will change that.”

Yale has close to 1,700 faculty members working on 2,500 federal and non-federal sponsored awards. Between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2005, Yale received $507 million in grant and contract funds, of which $415 million came from federal sources. Yale’s largest sponsor was the National Institutes of Health, which accounted for $326 million.

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