Ivy League re­searchers shirk fed­eral trans­parency

‘Mouse fight club’ paid for by tax­pay­ers’ cash

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Har­vard Univer­sity re­searchers pit­ted mice against each other in what one observer called a “mouse fight club,” al­ter­ing one mouse’s genes and then sticking it next to an “in­truder” mouse and see­ing how long it took for them to go at it.

But the univer­sity’s re­searchers for­got to men­tion in their press release that they’d used nearly $900,000 in fed­eral tax­payer money to fund the study — an omis­sion that vi­o­lated long­stand­ing fed­eral trans­parency laws, ac­cord­ing to a new report be­ing re­leased Tues­day by a coali­tion of govern­ment watch­dogs.

Out of 100 Ivy League schools’ projects ex­am­ined by the coali­tion in 2016, not a sin­gle one com­plied with the trans­parency rules, ef­fec­tively hid­ing fed­eral tax­pay­ers’ hand in a num­ber of con­tro­ver­sial an­i­mal re­search projects.

“There’s a whole lot of waste­ful ex­per­i­men­ta­tion on an­i­mals that the pub­lic is con­cerned about,” said Justin Goodman, vice pres­i­dent at the White Coat Waste Project, one of the groups be­hind the new study. “If they knew ex­actly how much money is be­ing spent on some of these projects, like forc­ing

dogs to run on tread­mills un­til they have heart at­tacks, they would give a sec­ond thought about whether this is the way they want their money spent.”

The trans­parency rule has been part of spend­ing bills ev­ery year since 1989, when it was first in­serted by the late Sen. Ted Stevens. In par­tic­u­lar, the lan­guage gov­erns the more than $150 bil­lion-peryear mea­sure that funds the La­bor, Ed­u­ca­tion and Health and Hu­man Ser­vices de­part­ments. That also in­cludes money for the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, the fed­eral govern­ment’s main re­search arm.

Un­der the rule, any­one who gets fed­eral grant money and then is­sues a press release, bid so­lic­i­ta­tion or other doc­u­ment de­scrib­ing the project must de­tail how much of their spend­ing is from fed­eral tax­pay­ers and how much is from other re­sources.

Mr. Goodman’s group teamed up with Re­store Ac­count­abil­ity, a watch­dog founded by for­mer Sen. Tom Coburn, and found poor com­pli­ance ev­ery­where. They iden­ti­fied 51 non­com­pli­ant Har­vard projects, 14 projects at Yale, 11 at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, six each at Brown, Columbia and Cor­nell, and three each at Prince­ton and Dart­mouth.

The vast ma­jor­ity of projects ex­am­ined by the group were funded by the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, but the Na­tional Sci­ence Foun­da­tion and De­fense and Vet­er­ans Af­fairs de­part­ments were also listed as the source of some of the money, which came to nearly $250 mil­lion in 2016 among the Ivy League.

Har­vard ac­counted for some $177 mil­lion of that.

Har­vard’s me­dia re­la­tions of­fice didn’t re­spond to an email re­quest­ing com­ment Mon­day on how it han­dles the Stevens Amend­ment and com­pli­ance guid­ance for its re­searchers.

The prob­lem is so ex­ten­sive that the Se­nate’s top five waste-watch­ers are fir­ing off a let­ter this week ask­ing the fed­eral comptroller gen­eral to in­ves­ti­gate the vi­o­la­tions.

“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,” GOP Sens. Jeff Flake, Ron John­son, James Lank­ford, John McCain and Rand Paul said in their let­ter to the Govern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice.

For his part, Mr. Coburn, who was Congress’ top waste-watcher un­til his re­tire­ment more than two years ago, said it was dis­ap­point­ing Capi­tol Hill had al­lowed the uni­ver­si­ties to get away with hid­ing their ties to fed­eral money for so long. He said out­side groups have had to step in.

“The report’s find­ings are an em­bar­rass­ing, but all too fa­mil­iar, ex­am­ple of over­sight or­ga­ni­za­tions do­ing the job Congress has failed to do. Trans­parency in how tax­payer dol­lars are spent is es­sen­tial for Congress to re­store the Amer­i­can peo­ple’s trust, and these prob­lems should be im­me­di­ately ad­dressed,” Mr. Coburn said.

Mr. Goodman said there are some uni­ver­si­ties that seem aware of the policy, and even in­clude guid­ance for how to com­ply on their grant web­sites. But oth­ers seem to thumb their nose at the trans­parency re­quire­ment.

“It’s a mix of ig­no­rance and ar­ro­gance,” he said. “It’s pos­si­ble that peo­ple are not aware of the con­di­tions that gov­ern their ac­cept­ing of tax­pay­ers’ money, and I think there is a level of ar­ro­gance where ex­per­i­menters of­ten feel they don’t have to be ac­count­able to any­body.”

The mouse-fight­ing project was de­signed to test whether sup­press­ing sero­tonin neu­rons would spark more ag­gres­sive be­hav­ior. Tar­get­ing two par­tic­u­lar sero­ton­er­gic neu­rons, the re­searchers con­cluded that “si­lenc­ing ei­ther of these neu­ronal sub­types en­hanced ag­gres­sive be­hav­ior in adult­hood.”

Tax­pay­ers seem to have a pen­chant for fund­ing ag­gres­sion stud­ies. The new waster report also iden­ti­fied a project at North­east­ern Univer­sity that took $3.4 mil­lion in fed­eral funds to study whether Prozac makes ham­sters more ag­gres­sive. That school also failed to dis­close de­tails re­quired by the Stevens Amend­ment, the report says.

Some of the projects iden­ti­fied by the new report were aimed at com­bat­ting the Zika virus, while oth­ers tar­geted var­i­ous forms of can­cer.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.