In response to a critical audit of the State University of New York Research Foundation, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said the university system has overseen the most comprehensive review in the Research Foundation’s history over the last two years and has implemented a number of changes that have improved the organization. That includes improving standards of integrity and ethical behavior, raising accountability and strengthening governance.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s audit, released this morning, said his investigators found “numerous” cases of abuse of taxpayer dollars by the foundation, such as a now-former senior foundation official at Buffalo State College (who has since been fired) spending $130,887 on the organization’s credit card that wasn’t work related and spending $913,500 on a single-source contract for an investigation and legal analysis of the troubled men’s basketball program at Binghamton University. The contract was approved and work performed before the justification for sole source was documented, DiNapoli’s office found.
DiNapoli said Research Foundation employees “took advantage of lax oversight to cheat taxpayers, skirt state laws and violate the foundation’s own policies.”
Zimpher said in a statement that SUNY and Research Foundation leadership have considered the audit “as an opportunity to acknowledge past problems” and have fully cooperated with the Comptroller’s Office. The foundation overseas the administration of nearly $1 billion in research activity a year in the areas of nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science and other fields.
“The comptroller’s findings are confirmation that change was necessary,” she said. “The RF is moving forward under the new leadership of Dr. Timothy Killeen, a world-renowned scholar and former National Science Foundation assistant director. The RF will continue to help capitalize on SUNY’s role as a major driver in building the state’s innovation economy and expanding research for the benefit of all New Yorkers.”
Zimpher and Killeen said several problems highlighted in the audit have already been addressed. The foundation has implemented comprehensive controls to ensure compliance with applicable law and policy, and it has issued a new code of conduct. It has improved policies and procedures, including those related to procurement and payroll. It has recruited new management and board members.
The Research Foundation admitted that not all contracts were timely had appropriate documentation and details, but it claims there were no actual conflicts of interest relative to the contracts.
“We appreciate the thorough review and recommendations from OSC as SUNY and the RF strive to set a national model for research foundations across the country,” Killeen said.