A federal science agency is “seriously” interested in reviewing tens of millions in taxpayer-funded grants awarded to a university professor who wants President Obama to prosecute those who don’t share the administration’s view that mankind is changing the world’s climate.
The National Science Foundation’s inspector general appears poised to look into Jagadish Shukla’s management of federal grant money, much of it from the science agency itself.
The science agency has its own rules and guidelines governing grants, which would be applicable to the millions Shukla, 71, received from the agency.
“The longstanding cozy relationship between [government] grant-makers and grantees makes them blind to even the most obvious conflict of interest,” Bonner Cohen, a scholar with a free-market think tank in Washington, told The Daily Signal.
Shukla, a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., led the charge by 20 college professors to urge a federal investigation aimed at scientific skeptics who differ with their views on climate change.
At the same time, Shukla, his wife, and his research center were awash in taxpayers’ money, according to an internal audit by the university on which The Daily Signal previously reported.
A House panel looking into Shukla’s activities sent related information to Allison Lerner, inspector general for the National Science Foundation.
Susan Carohan, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Inspector General, said the agency is “unable to comment publicly” on the Shukla case, citing “privacy requirements.”
“As with any correspondence from a congressional committee, we take the concerns expressed very seriously,” Carohan said in an email.
Cohen, senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, told The Daily Signal that lax enforcement of existing rules has bedeviled the U.S. government for some time:
The federal government is awash in guidelines governing the conduct of recipients of the billions of dollars in grants doled out by Washington every year. But these regulations are loosely enforced, both by government bureaucrats and by the institutions receiving the money.
The National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency, was created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; [and] to secure the national defense,” among other goals.
The agency’s website notes that its annual budget of $7.5 billion includes funding for nearly a quarter of all basic research that federal taxpayers make possible at America’s colleges and universities.
Shukla’s name appears first among 20 signers of a letter to Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking them to use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, to investigate corporations and other groups skeptical of man-made global warming, also known as climate change.
The audit by Shukla’s employer, George Mason University, suggests that the professor misused tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funding by “double dipping” in federal and state funds in violation of university policy.
The Daily Signal has made repeated attempts through George Mason University to reach Shukla for comment, but he has not responded. The last attempt was Monday.
Observers critical of Shukla, some of whom consider him an alarmist, say Virginia taxpayers who don’t agree with Shukla’s policy stance on climate change were forced to fund his political activism.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, began making inquiries into the professor’s finances last fall in response to reports that he had received taxpayer-funded grants well beyond his publicly funded salary.
Shukla, who specializes in atmospheric, oceanic, and earth studies at George Mason University, is also the founder and president of the Rockville, Md.-based Institute of Global Environment and Society, or IGES, a nonprofit outfit that is now a focus of scrutiny by Smith’s committee.
‘An Excessive Amount’
As previously reported by The Daily Signal, in a March 2 letter to Lerner, the National Science Foundation’s inspector general, Smith details key findings of the university’s audit and offers to assist her office in “any review” she may “deem appropriate.”
The committee chairman also asks that Lerner keep his committee “apprised of any work” her office pursues with regard to Shukla’s finances.
Above all, Smith calls attention to the substantial funds Shukla received from the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies. He writes of Shukla’s research center:
IGES has apparently received $63 million from taxpayer-funded grants since 2001, comprising over 98 percent of its total revenue. These grants were awarded by the [National Science Foundation], the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Since 2001, as president of IGES, Dr. Shukla appears to have paid himself and his wife a total of $5.6 million in compensation–an excessive amount for a nonprofit relying on taxpayer money. This information raises serious questions about Dr. Shukla’s financial management of IGES.
The Daily Signal asked Lerner’s office whether the inspector general intended to move forward with her own investigation and whether she would comment on Smith’s letter.
Carohan, her spokeswoman, replied in an email:
As with any correspondence from a congressional committee, we take the concerns expressed very seriously. However, in this instance, we are unable to comment publicly on the matters noted in the letter due to privacy requirements.
The National Science Foundation’s policies set limits on the amount of grant money that may be awarded to individuals earning a salary from a college or university during an academic year.
Grants may be awarded during summer months based on the “two-ninths rule.” This rule means that “proposal budgets submitted should not request, and NSF-approved budgets will not include, funding for an individual investigator which exceeds two-ninths of the academic year salary. This limit includes summer salary received from all NSF-funded grants.”
Cohen, the scholar at the National Center for Public Policy Research, said:
The longstanding cozy relationship between grant-makers and grantees makes them blind to even the most obvious conflict of interest or incidence of double dipping. And when the government is driving the scientific research to reach a predetermined conclusion, as is the case with climate change, then no one is going to rock the boat.
Agencies such as NOAA, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the science agency itself, he said, “get the ‘findings’ they want, and the universities and nonprofits get the money they want.”
Cohen added: “The system is thoroughly corrupt.”
The relationship between Shukla’s research center in Maryland and his role in the “RICO 20” letter to Obama and Lynch is a point of concern, Smith wrote to to the professor in October. Media reports said his center, IGES, initially was responsible for circulating the letter urging criminal prosecution of climate skeptics, Smith pointed out.
Although the letter to the president and the attorney general was scrubbed from the IGES website, it is available elsewhere.
This letter raises serious concerns because IGES appears to be almost fully funded by taxpayer money while simultaneously participating in partisan political activity by requesting a RICO investigation of companies and organizations that disagree with the Obama administration on climate.
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.