By Emma Bass
If the current moment is teaching us anything, it is that scientific advancements are becoming increasingly important as powerful tools to combat crises. While the west coast battles fires, the southeast faces hurricanes, and the country collectively combats the coronavirus pandemic, the world is on the edge of its seat waiting for solutions to the disasters that seem to be coming with increased consistency recently. However, one of the key ways in which we can make substantial strides towards these solutions in a timely manner is through providing adequate funds that power the work that goes into these scientific projects. For instance, as for the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government has invested billions of dollars into the companies that are leading the charge towards a vaccine in an ambitious effort titled “Operation Warp Speed,” which “aims to deliver 300 million doses of a safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19 by January 2021.” Whether or not scientists are able to meet this date, it is crucial that the entirety of the government funding put into this effort is used in a productive manner that advances the goals of the project: to produce a working, effective, and safe vaccine.
However, instances of fraud within scientific research institutes are possible, as evidenced by the fact that recently The Scripps Research Institute (TSIR) settled for $10 million for improperly charging the National Institute for Health (NIH) in violation of the False Claims Act. TSIR utilized specific grant funds fraudulently when it used these funds for unrelated projects such as “developing, preparing, and writing new grant applications, teaching, and engaging in other administrative activities,” according to the Department of Justice. In this Department of Justice press release, the U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur stated “federal grant recipients must use the grant funds they receive on tasks that specifically relate to the funded project. Those that improperly charge the government for costs unrelated to the project must be held accountable,” and Special Agent in Charge Maureen R. Dixon for the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General stated that “taxpayers funds for medical research are finite and the need for scientific advances is great; therefore, it’s critical that these resources are used as intended.”
From fighting COVID-19, to tackling every coming crisis, scientific institutes and organizations will be leading the charge towards innovation. However, it is essential that with the increase of funding that will funnel into these groups, their priorities remain centered on creating solutions that help the global community, as opposed to engaging in fraudulent schemes that advance their own needs. It is clear that oversight is necessary in order to ensure this, and whistleblowers will be needed to prevent fraud in the coming months and years as scientific achievements progress.
Emma Bass is the current Public Interest Advocacy Fellow at Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund.