The Specter of Fraud; July 2009; Scientific American Magazine; by Eugenie Samuel Reich; 2 Page(s)
One unintended side effect of Congress's intense efforts to jump-start the U.S. economy is the threat of fraud. Earl Devaney, chair of a newly appointed federal watchdog agency, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, has warned that without precautionary measures, as much as 7 percent of the stimulus package will end up in the hands of bad actors. Apply Devaney's math to the $31 billion being spent on science—by the National Institutes of Health, NASA, the Departments of Commerce and Energy, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) combined—and stimulus funds represent an unprecedented boost not only for science, but also, potentially, for science fraud.
Under the stimulus bill, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, various science-funding agencies will enjoy a substantial up-tick in their budgets. But they are under pressure to dole out the new funds quickly on "beaker ready" projects. The risk of scientific misconduct has generally been considered to be less than 1 percent, but the size of the disbursements and the added reporting requirements (namely, quarterly status reports and updates on job creation) could tempt researchers to cut corners or even fake aspects of applications. Meanwhile at the agencies, the urgency to spend could take precedence over monitoring. "We're not going to know until it happens. It probably is occurring," concedes Patricia Dalton of the Government Accountability Office.