While this piece is about a US scientific funding body, research misconduct and public money, it is nonetheless an interesting discussion for those of us interested in research misconduct.
- Misspending and fraud detected by NSF OIG amounts to something like ~0.1% of the NSF budget. The headline number of each semiannual report is the amount of money OIG saved taxpayers. It includes recoveries and penalties paid by individuals and institutions found to have misused funds, and “questioned costs”. In a typical recent year, NSF OIG reports something like $8-10 million in savings to taxpayers. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but that’s the ballpark figure. That’s as compared to the NSF annual budget (all of it, not just grants) of a bit more than $8 billion in recent years.
- Most of the misspending and fraud detected by NSF OIG does not involve scientific misconduct. That is, most of the taxpayer savings NSF OIG reports don’t come from cases of NSF-funded researchers fabricating data, falsifying results, or committing plagiarism. Rather, the bulk of the taxpayer savings seem to come from OIG busting misspending and embezzlement, mostly by institutions and private businesses but some by academic researchers. For instance, a university misspending research grant funds to pay teaching assistants for many years. A small businessman defrauding an NSF technology transfer program to pay his wife a bunch of money. A company defrauding NSF by billing twice for the same work. Etc.