Scripps Research to pay $10 million to settle allegations of improperly charging NIH-funded grants

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The Scripps Research Institute, which has a campus in La Jolla, has agreed to pay $10 million to settle claims that it improperly charged federal research grants for time researchers spent on non-grant-related activities, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Robert Hur said in a statement. “The U.S. attorney’s office and the Department of Justice have a duty to protect government resources and ensure they are used appropriately.”

The settlement resolves allegations that between 2008 and 2016, Scripps Research — a nonprofit biomedical research institute that also has a campus in Jupiter, Fla., and receives millions of dollars in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health — failed to have a system in place for its faculty to properly account for time spent on activities that cannot be charged directly to NIH-funded projects or are unrelated to the projects’ research activities.

The government contended that Scripps Research improperly charged time that faculty spent on developing, preparing and writing new grant applications directly to existing NIH-funded projects rather than allocating the charges as indirect costs. The government also alleged that the institute improperly charged for time spent on other activities unrelated to the funded projects, such as teaching, committee work and other administrative tasks.

“The inquiry stemmed from an accounting discrepancy that averaged less than half of 1 percent per year of the institute’s annual federal grant funding,” according to a statement from Scripps Research. “Throughout the course of the inquiry, the institute fully cooperated with the federal government, providing all requested documentation and assisting government investigators. No questions were raised concerning the quality or conduct of our research or the contributions of our faculty to science, innovation and the improvement of human health.”

The settlement resolves allegations originally brought in a whistleblower lawsuit by Thomas Burris, a former Scripps Research employee. Burris will receive $1.75 million from the settlement, the Justice Department said. ◆