State auditor finds WSU likely violated federal grant rules

Washington State University likely violated federal rules when it charged two U.S. science agencies for work done by two employees who had little or no involvement in the projects, the state auditor has found.

Washington State University likely violated federal rules when it used money from a science grant to pay salaries and benefits for two employees who had little to no involvement in the projects, a state audit report has found.

While the amount in question is small — just $17,000 in all — a WSU professor who blew the whistle on the case says he’s concerned WSU’s federal grant funding could be in jeopardy as a result.

The issue was raised by Norman Lewis, a professor in WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry and former director of the institute, who reported it to the state auditor this past year. In an interview, Lewis — a whistleblower who has waived anonymity — said he believes WSU administrators falsified documents and may have also committed grant fraud.

The state auditor’s office didn’t go that far, but it found reasonable cause that an “improper governmental action” occurred when James Moyer, the associate dean of research for the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), directed changes to the federal grant to pay the salaries of two employees.

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The auditor’s office found that one employee did no work on the NASA project, but was being paid from that fund, and that another worked at a lesser percentage than was being charged to the grant.

While the state auditor found that an improper government action took place, it did not find that a possible ethics violation took place, said Kathleen Cooper, spokeswoman for the auditor’s office. In part, that’s because Lewis didn’t raise that issue at the time, and also because the action didn’t meet the definitions of any of the things that constitute an ethics violation, Cooper said.

However, the State Ethics Board will also review the case, and it could reach a different finding, she said.

WSU officials have pushed back against the auditor’s report, saying it left out some facts that “lend to an inaccurate and incomplete context of the situation.”

Among the reasons for why WSU objects to the finding: administrators say Lewis was told that if the two employees weren’t moved to federal grant work, they would be at risk of being laid…

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