Columbia University has been fined $9.5 million for overcharging the US National Institutes of Health, Stat News reports.
According to a statement from US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, Columbia settled the civil fraud lawsuit that said that the school improperly sought and received "excessive cost recoveries" from NIH-funded grants. Between 2003 and 2015, the US Attorney's Office alleges that Columbia applied its on-campus indirect cost rate, rather that the lower off-campus indirect cost rate, when pursuing reimbursement for 423 NIH grants, even though the research for those studies was mostly conducted at facilities owned and operated by the State of New York and New York City and Columbia did not pay for the use of that space for most of that time period.
In the settlement, Columbia admitted the improper cost recovery and is to pay $9.5 million.
"All institutions that receive federal grant money must abide by applicable rules and regulations governing the use of the funds and the extent to which costs incurred by the institution are reimbursable," Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara says in a statement.
Stat News notes that the suit stemmed from a whistleblower, Mathew Chisholm, a Columbia employee who noticed the billing irregularities. Chisholm's attorney, Tim McInnis says Chisholm "was very troubled by the conduct and troubled by the fact that the people whose attention he brought it to either did not want to or were not able to do anything about it."
A spokesperson for Columbia tells Stat that the university thought it was "appropriate to apply an 'on campus' indirect cost rate to research performed by Columbia faculty in certain buildings owned by the state or city that are located on our medical center campus," but that it is "pleased to put this dispute behind us and resolve the matter."