Whistleblowers Can Take Bite Out of Research Grant ‘Double Dipping’
02/27/2013 // San Francisco, California, US // Whistleblower Law Firm // Jeffery Keller // (press release)
(Whistleblowers News Update) Fraud against the government takes many shapes and forms — as a unique computer analysis of research funding awards recently demonstrated. The January issue of the science journal Nature reports that a team from Virginia Tech used sophisticated software to look for duplicate language in research grants dating back to 1985. The analysis determined that tens of millions of dollars in research funding might have been the result of improper ‘double dipping’ — in which the government unknowingly provided funding to projects that have already received financial support.
Fraud against the government — in activities ranging from health care reimbursements to defense contracts — has long been a drain on public resources, and a concern for citizens and lawmakers alike. But the issue has become particularly worrisome in recent years, as tighter budgets and difficult economic conditions have diminished, or threatened to diminish, the reach of many important government programs. While cutting programs and raising taxes are most commonly discussed — and the most controversial — proposals for tackling the new fiscal reality, fighting fraud, and recovering improperly paid sums, can be an effective, painless alternative.
That’s where whistleblower lawsuits and statutes like the False Claims Act come in. The gold standard of U.S. informant laws, the False Claims Act has proven an extraordinarily successful tool in helping the government recover funds that would have otherwise been lost forever to fraud. In recent years, the main thrust of enforcement of the FCA and programs modeled on it — which give the whistleblower a share in the recovery, as an incentive to come forward with inside knowledge of wrongdoing — has been in the financial services, pharmaceutical, healthcare, and defense industries (the False Claims Act alone has lead to the recovery of more than $30 billion since the statute was significantly modified in the mid-1980s). The Virginia Tech study, however, shows that fraud has a long arm, and pervades many other areas, as well. There, too, whistleblowers and whistleblower statutes like the False Claims Act, can prove essential.
“Double-dipping in federal research funding, against the explicit rules of the programs granting those funds, is clearly a kind of fraud that the False Claims Act reaches,” says Jeffrey F. Keller, a veteran whistleblower lawyer and founding partner at Keller Grover, a nationally recognized labor and employment law firm. “Whistleblowers can play an important role in helping the government to better identify double dippers, and to recover the duplicate funding. Doing so frees up more money for more research, to tackle the pressing issues and problems of our time. Now more than ever, fighting fraud, and recouping payments that never should have been made, is critical.”
Within the agencies that provide federal funding for research, fraud has become an increasing concern. Last year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office warned that that federal research agencies needed better abilities to identify researchers submitting duplicate grant requests to disparate funders in a bid to make up for tighter funding.
“According to the Virginia Tech team, the software they used to hone in on potential double-dipping was conservative in its analysis, so the study may be unveiling just the tip of the iceberg,” says Keller, whose firm has offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. “That’s where the False Claims Act, and the whistleblowers it empowers, come in. This study analyzed information after the fact. Whistleblowers are the boots on the ground who can raise these issues while they are happening.”
The computer analysis looked at more than 630,000 grant award documents, detailing projects funded by the government organizations including the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy. These organizations, along with most counterparts in the private sector, have rules that generally prohibit scientists from accepting funding for the same project from different sources. But the analysis — which relied on sophisticated plagiarism-detecting software called eTBLAST — found 1,300 pairs of grant awards with similar wording. Of these, 334 appeared to have what the researchers called ‘suspicious overlaps.’ In all, the analysis revealed that the government could have paid up to $70 million in ‘double-dipping’ since 2002, and potentially $200 million since 1985.
“Fraud is a problem throughout the government, and it often involves behavior that people don’t normally think of, like double-dipping for research grants,” says Keller. “Whistleblowers have already proven a vital weapon in the war on fraud, and they can come to the rescue here, too, helping us to maximize the number of worthy research projects that can be funded — even as the purse strings get tighter.”
Learn more about fraud against the government from the Whistleblower Law Firm of Keller Grover LLP by visiting www.kellergroverwhistleblowerlawyers.com.
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