Science centers that were supposed to be the “cornerstone” of the Department of the Interior’s “climate change response strategy” don’t have the proper controls in place to prevent wasteful spending, according to an internal audit.
The inspector general’s office found Interior Department’s climate science centers (CSC) and landscape conservation cooperatives (LCC) could be wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on duplicative research grants.
“We found that CSCs and LCCs had no formal process to coordinate the prevention of duplication in research grants, which could limit accessibility of information by Federal, State, local, and private-sector decisionmakers and place DOI at increased risk of funding duplicative research,” the IG’s office reported.
“We found inadequate internal controls and poor project tracking,” the IG’s office added.
Investigators found that these science centers did not regularly coordinate research within the Interior Department and did not share their climate data with Climate.Data.Gov as required by federal law.
“Failure to develop policy to prevent duplication within DOI’s climate science programs and failure to fully share information means that, given the size of the endeavor, millions of Federal dollars might be wasted funding duplicative research at the CSCs and LCCs,” the IG reported.
“These failures are also inefficient and reduce CSC and LCC contributions to the greater scientific community,” the IG found. The IG’s office audited two CSCs and four LCCs.
Created in 2010, CSCs and LCCs were supposed to be “the cornerstone of [Interior’s] climate change response strategy,” according to the IG report.
Interior’s eight CSCs and 22 LCCs got nearly $150 million in funding from 2013 to 2015. CSCs are primarily funded through the U.S. Geological Survey and LCCs get most of their funding through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The IG report comes amid budget fights erupt between the White House and Congress over how federal agencies should be funded.
The Trump administration wants to increase defense spending $54 billion, paid for with cuts to federal agencies. The White House proposed cutting the Interior Department’s budget $1.5 billion, or 12 percent, from 2017 levels.
While light on specifics, the White House’s budget plan aims to cut “unnecessary, lower priority, or duplicative programs” from Interior’s budget. The science centers aren’t named, but they could be on the chopping block once the full budget is released in May.
CSC and LCC officials told IG investigators they “have not implemented controls in these areas because they believe that the prevention of duplication arises organically out of the collaborative process used to develop requests for proposals.”
“CSC and LCC personnel told us that they are aware of the current research and state of science within the community, and that their science initiatives are so specific that no danger exists of duplicating work,” the IG reported.
“We found, however, that their process focuses on the development of strategic research areas rather than the grant award phase, which is when any potential for unnecessary duplication can best be avoided,” the IG noted.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found in 2015 there were at least two instances where a CSC and LCC funded research that appeared “to be nearly identical, giving the impression that the same work was funded twice.”
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