The University of Washington used federal grant funding to buy thousands of dollars worth of custom embroidered Snuggies.
Taxpayer-funded National Science Foundation grants were used to purchase Snuggies, pottery, and a trip to Hawaii. The agency’s inspector general audited the University of Washington and found millions in unallowable salary costs, and numerous examples of "unreasonable transactions" from funds intended for scientific research.
The audit, released last month, identified $8,821 charged to five separate grants on unallowable promotional items and gifts, including personalized Snuggie blankets.
The wasteful expenditures included $3,920 on canvas bags, mini optical computer mice, and custom Snuggies, as well as $1,179 for the "purchase of embroidered Snuggies."
Snuggies retail for as low as $7.99. Personalized embroidered Snuggies can cost much more, but the university could have bought 51 Snuggies at $22.99 apiece for the $1,179 they spent from AllStarLogo.com for their "bigger-than-most Snuggie fleece blankets."
Bloggers have noted the benefits of Snuggies over lab coats.
"Made from space age materials that are totally not soluble in every single liquid you handle, the Snuggie Scientific lets you work alone without ever being alone," wrote a blogger at Everyday Scientist.
The inspector general said the university "agreed to transfer the costs from the award" for the Snuggies and other promotional items.
Other unsupported costs included $441 to "purchase pottery for the creation of an educational outreach kit," and $260 for luggage.
The inspector general also deemed $23,372 from National Science Foundation grant funds spent on a trip to Hawaii as "not allocable to two of three of the NSF awards to which it was charged." The university said the spending was necessary for research, while the inspector general said there was a "lack of adequate support for trip expenses" and that the researchers overcharged for per diem.
Nearly $2 million in grant funding exceeded the agency’s limits on senior salary. The inspector general found 105 separate projects paid researchers too much.
The university questioned the finding, arguing the "senior personnel salary costs identified in the report were appropriately allocated to NSF awards under institutional post-award rebudgeting authority."
Many projects also used expiring grant funds to buy office supplies and equipment, the inspector general found. A total of $122,893 was spent on unnecessary and unreasonable purchases from 19 projects.
Eight projects spent $61,223 on equipment just as funding was set to expire. One project spent $3,800 on supplies on August 30, 2010, just one day before the award expired. Others spent thousands on MacBook Pro laptops and desktop computers, sometimes just days before the project’s end.
The inspector general questioned the purchase of a $21,236 laser system that was purchased two months before the four-year project ended.
In response to the audit, the University of Washington said it would work with the National Science Foundation to "resolve each of the questioned costs."
"In reviewing the report and questioned costs we believe the audit confirms the effectiveness of our management systems as well as the dedication and commitment of our faculty and staff to manage NSF awards in a compliant manner," the university said. "The University is committed to continually improve our oversight and management of NSF awards."
"This audit proves an opportunity to further strengthen our administrative and management controls and processes and to continue to enhance already robust outreach and training," they said.