Columbia University will pay the federal government $9.5 million to settle allegations that it received excessive reimbursements under hundreds of NIH grants.
According to federal prosecutors, Columbia University applied for higher facility cost reimbursements as part of 423 NIH research grants from July 2003 to June 2015. Although Columbia conducted the research at off-campus facilities, it applied for cost recoveries under the higher on-campus recovery rate.
“It is disturbing that Columbia University, a prestigious institution, would improperly seek excessive cost reimbursements from NIH, as alleged in the settlement,” said Scott J. Lampert, HHS Office of Inspector General's special agent in charge. “Money gained by such behavior deprives other research programs of funds that could yield life-altering new treatments. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure institutions who engage in wrongful activity are held accountable.”
Columbia University researchers worked at two buildings owned by the state of New York and operated by the New York State Psychiatric Institute, as well as one building owned by New York City, but it didn't pay to use any of the facilities. Still, the university requested cost recovery for using the buildings, applying the 61% on-campus rate rather than a 26% off-campus reimbursement rate.
The university said it believed in good faith that the on-campus indirect cost rate was appropriately applied, as the state- and city-owned buildings were on Columbia University Medical Center campus.
“Columbia is committed to compliance with all requirements for federal grants,” a university spokesperson said. “The government disagreed with the university's approach and took the position that a lower 'off campus' indirect cost rate was appropriate. We are pleased to put this dispute behind us and resolve the matter.”
Federal prosecutors recouped the funds under the False Claims Act. The allegations originated from a private whistle-blower, the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York said.