Report: Ivy League Schools Did Not Disclose $246 Million in Taxpayer Funding, Violating Law

Senators ask watchdog to investigate

Yale University / Getty Images
April 25, 2017

An analysis of over $200 million in research projects conducted by Ivy League institutions found that none disclosed how they spent taxpayer dollars, in violation of federal law.

Senators are now asking the Government Accountability Office to investigate how many federally funded projects are not standing the scrutiny of how taxpayer dollars are spent.

The report conducted by White Coat Waste Project, a bipartisan organization seeking an end to taxpayer-funded animal experiments, and co-authored by Restore Accountability, identified 100 National Institutes of Health studies that did not disclose funding in press releases. The nondisclosure violates the Stevens Amendment, a three decades-old transparency rule.

White Coat Waste found "widespread transparency failures by Ivy League universities receiving more than $2 billion annually from the National Institutes of Health," according to the report.

"This report demonstrates that 100 percent of these universities' 2016 press releases detailing NIH-funded animal experiments—representing nearly a quarter-billion dollars in taxpayer funds—violated federal law requiring disclosure of government funding details," the group said.

Aside from Ivy League schools, the report also includes projects that violated the disclosure law from Sen. Jeff Flake's (R., Ariz.) 2017 Wastebook.

Examples include a $230,000 project conducted by New York University and the University of Rochester that studied whether "monkeys prefer photographs of other monkeys' rear-ends on red or blue backgrounds."

A $3.4 million Northwestern University project dubbed "Hamster Cage Matches" that studied the aggression levels in hamster fights also did not disclose how it spent the taxpayer funding.

One hundred additional studies conducted by Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, U. Penn, Princeton, and Yale were publicized in press releases by the schools, but did not disclose how the funding, totaling $246 million, was spent.

"If our nation's eight most prominent educational institutions are systematically violating funding disclosure law, the problem likely extends to the thousands of other entities receiving the balance of the NIH’s $32 billion annual research budget, and grantees of other agencies covered by the Stevens Amendment," the report said.

The Stevens Amendment, passed in 1989, requires grant recipients to disclose the amount of federal funds received, what percentage of the total costs was spent, and what will be spent by nongovernment sources in any press release or document that mentions the project.

A letter sent by Republican senators Flake, Ron Johnson (Wisc.), John McCain (Ariz.), and James Lankford (Okla.) to the Government Accountability Office Tuesday asked for an investigation into violations of the Stevens Amendment.

"We are writing to request that the Government Accountability Office conduct a review of federal spending to ensure transparency and accountability," the senators said.

"Unfortunately, congressional oversight has shown that many recipients of federal funds are not complying with this longstanding taxpayer transparency law," the senators said. "We have found most of the documents and statements issued by the recipients of federal funds from these departments reviewed by our offices did not disclose the costs. In some cases, neither the funding agency nor the recipient could or would provide this information when asked."

The senators asked the federal watchdog to investigate if and how departments and agencies are providing guidance for how to comply with the law, what methods are used to track costs, and what percentage of taxpayer-funded grantees are fully complying with the disclosure.

"We believe it is unacceptable for agencies and grant recipients to disregard longstanding transparency requirements, and those agencies have an obligation to spend taxpayer dollars effectively and efficiently," the senators said.

A poll commissioned by White Coat Waste last month found that 72 percent of Americans believe universities and other federally funded researchers should clearly indicate how taxpayer funding is spent on their published results, including 52 percent who strongly support the measure.

Only 11 percent of the 1,000 adults surveyed opposed the idea.