University ordered to pay US government $9.5 million in civil fraud lawsuit

Columbia University in New York City will pay a $9.5 million (£7.25 million) fine to the US government to settle a civil fraud lawsuit. The university was found to have sought excessive reimbursements from biomedical grants awarded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). The settlement was announced earlier this month by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

Columbia admitted recovering costs at the higher ‘on-campus’ rate for more than 420 NIH grant awarded between July 2003 and June 2015, even though the research in question was primarily carried out at facilities neither owned or operated by the institute. The university says it believed ‘in good faith’ that it was appropriate to apply an on-campus indirect cost rate to the research in question, which was performed by Columbia faculty in buildings owned by the state or city that are located on the school’s medical centre campus.

‘It is disturbing that Columbia University, a prestigious institution, would improperly seek excessive cost reimbursements from NIH, as alleged in the settlement,’ said Scott Lampert, the special agent in charge of the New York region of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General. ‘Money gained by such behaviour deprives other research programmes of funds that could yield life-altering new treatments,’ he stated.