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US Senators Probe Fraud Allegation At Climate Change Research Group

Kimberly Kindy, The Washington Post

The National Science Foundation and Defense Department are being investigated by senators for signing off on taxpayer funding that went toward partying and coffee drinking at a climate change research nonprofit.

Two senators are investigating whether the National Science Foundation and Defense Department auditors skirted federal laws by signing off on a nonprofit organization’s use of taxpayer money for “unallowable expenses,” including alcohol, lobbying and extravagant parties.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said the practice came to his attention earlier this year when a whistleblower provided him with a draft audit that showed a climate change group used federal funds to pay $112,000 for lobbying, $25,000 for an office Christmas party, and $11,000 for “premium coffee services” and an unspecific amount on French hotels.

The Colorado-based National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) has received tens of millions of dollars in grant money from the NSF to build sites across the country for collecting climate change data.

“Spending taxpayer dollars on alcoholic beverages is absolutely prohibited, and spending taxpayer dollars on meals, entertainment, and travel that is not part of official business, which is paid from or attributable to a federal grant, is also prohibited by governmental regulation,” Grassley wrote in a Sept. 3 letter to NEON, that was also signed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

The senators said they are concerned that what they saw in the NEON draft audit may be a “widespread” problem with NSF grant programs since documents show the foundation was aware of the expenses and paid them.

In a written statement, NEON Chairman James P. Collins said his group “has spent all funding in strict compliance with our understanding of the guidelines provided.”

Collins said in his statement that NEON is in now compiling the records requested by the senators.

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