Closeout for M94120041 This case was brought to the attention of OIG on 18 November 1994 by university officials.' The officials informed us that an undergraduate student2was alleged to have committed "fraud and theft" in connection with her NSF-supported work. OIG's investigation report and NSF's Deputy Director's 8 February 1999 letter describing his decision constitute the closeout for this case. Cc: Integrity, IG -. J - .- . ---- $ . Page 1 of 1 M94-4 1 ..,,...; . . .....,....,. .. : , .:: -,, . . ...A: :',.,, ;i';ir:.; .. ,.. . >;. ..,";>.' ,.' : .' ,. . < : .. . :.u'.;, .>..:,y ." '. .;. . .. ,.,:..7 . ,$!,; '<,'.: ' - .. . , . .".....,.... , :.. . , ,'.; ;?;.' ,;. :.. .. NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION' , 1, ' ; :-.>. .; \ ;::,,:;?:?:,j..: ;. : . ~ . . , *. . ., :;..,:;;; ,. . , . .": . ,,,, . r ,, , , , : ,. <? , : .'. . :.",) ., .:?., ,> !; .<,,;..,, ,;,; . ,. , , ,:, ._/ . , 1 ... .;,; :,*;.,;;..; ;.,;?; . .., . . . . ,. : . . / , . . , , .,, .j',s .* . , . < * '. 4201 WILSON BOULEVAF~D . . . . . . . , .., ,. . :. . , , , , . : . ' ' . ,. . . ,. , ,. . , . . .. .. ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA 22230 ' , . February 8, 1999 OFFICE OF THE D E P m OIRECTOR CERTIFIED - - MAIL-RETURN - - - RECEIET REOUESTED -- - -- ,-- -- 2 Misconduct in Science Determination Dear,. :. . ' + - z:oa : I - By letter dated October 14, 1998, I informed you that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has determined that your client, , committed misconduct in science when she fabricated data under an NSF research award. Because of the severity of the misconduct, I proposed debarring for one year. In your November 20, 1998 response, you indicate that your client is remorseful for her actions and that she has learned the importance of integrity in research. However, I am troubled by your client's failure to accept full responsibility for her misconduct. Your client attempts to shift blame for her misconduct to , alleging that she was a "departmental terroru, rather than accepting full responsibility for her actions. Furthermore, you attempt to characterize your client's actions as an isolated act, undertaken following a single incident in which she lost original data, and indicate that she reported the false data in order to give her time to repeat her earlier work. You also hypothesize that if your client had known of some samples that another researcher had, she might have been able to repeat her work and report the results accurately. These explanations for her behavior are not supported by the facts in the administrative record. The record establishes that your client falsified many time cards and research data in two distinct laboratories at the Uni.er_sit-yover an 11 month period. In addition, according t o . /your client showed no remorse at the time that the fabrication was discovered, prior to Y - b the- -commencement of any criminal proceedings. According to*? - * your client actually stated that she "was owed the -- L ' moneyN &en though she did not perform the work. This indicates a deliberate pattern of misconduct. In conclusion, I find that your client committed misconduct in science and hereby issue this letter of reprimand. However, I have determined that debarment is not necessary. The purpose of debarment is to protect the Federal Government from doing business with individuals who lack present responsibility. Although your client's misconduct was severe, you indicate that she is no longer pursuing a career in science. Based upon your representations, it is highly unlikely that your client will work in a federally-funded scientific laboratory or have any control over funds from a federal grant or contract during the next year. I also note that your client has already suffered serious consequences for her misconduct, including expulsion from the , restitution, and a criminal conviction. For all these reasons, I have determined that it is not necessary to debar your client in order to protect the Federal Government's interest. I hope that your client will gain appreciation for the import of protecting the integrity of the research process and will adhere to the highest standards of integrity in her future career. Under our regulations, you have 30 days after receipt of this letter to appeal in writing, to the Director of the Foundation. 45 CFR §689.9(a). Any appeal should be addressed to the Director of the National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia 22230. If you have any questions about the foregoing, please call Lawrence Rudolph, General Counsel, at (703) 306-1060. Sincerely, ~ o s e ~Bordogna h Acting Deputy Director Confidential Office of Inspector General Investigation Report OIG Case M94120041 15 September 1997 This document is loaned to you FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY. It remains the property of the Office of Inspector General. -It may not be reproduced. It may be disclosed outside of NSF only by the Inspector General, pursuant to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts, 5 U.S.C. $5 552,552a. INVESTIGATION REPORT Summary The Office of Inspector General (OIG) has determined that (the -- --=a subject), formerly an undergraduate student and student lab aide at the)-- > (the University), willhlly falsified time cards and fabricated research data in association with two NSF awards and other nonfederally supported research and that these actions were part of a pattern of such behavior. Our conclusion is based on our analysis of evidence collected by the University and as part of proceedings in a state Judicial District Court. OIG recommends that NSF find that the subject committed misconduct in science and take two actions as a frnal disposition of this case. The subject should receive a letter of reprimand informing her that (1) NSF has concluded that she committed misconduct in science and that (2) she is debarred for a period of 1 year. The ~vidence' --, In an 18 November 1994 letter, the ----- - - -- *(the University) informed NSF that an undergraduate student, (the subject), ---- was alleged to have committed --7 "fraud and theft" in connection with her work on NSF award, (Ex. 1, page 1). The University subsequently reported that the subject confessed to falsifying time cards and to fabricating data in confiection with her work as a student- lab -aide- in two research laboratories. One of these laboratories was headed by -'. >- _7 ;(the PI). The other was headed by ,r - :. The subject's - A - - -- -- work in the PI'S laboratory was supported by two NSF grants,*T'- " and**- - The subject's work in the other laboratory was not supported by federal grants. Exhs. 2-4. In response to our request for information: the University provided records showing that, on the basis of 3 1 falsified time cards submitted by the subject from 17 September 1993 through ' The information we gathered in this case was the result of an extended exchange with the University. We have attached to this report the directly relevant material. We would be pleased to provide additional information .=. upon request. .=- -- .- -.. . - . -~-- - -- . . . .. .- .. ~ - ~ ~ - . " - - ~- -- 95 ~ ~~ entitle$- .. - a, 'This award named l . - 7 - y r t h e P1..,+ .<: % -. ~ , T t nmvided -- 97 F --s-+--- ;." This award ~ , j s ~entitled - . 4. named ' ' -I_ 1 as the PI. It p r o v i d e d Presearch support and is i f o w s d . In our 22 August 1995 letter we informed the University that, because of the unusual circumstances in this case, we were initiating an investigation. Exh. 4. We considered this misconduct-in-science case unusual for three reasons. First, the subject's actions had already resulted in a criminal conviction. Second, our office was presented, for the f m t t h e , with evidence that indicated that it might be appropriate to recommend debarment in connection with an undergraduate student's activities. Third, the case had been handled procedurally under laws and University regulations other than misconduct-in-science policies. Page 1 15 July 1994, she received $5781.29.' On the basis of 9 of --these --- time - cards she received a - - total of $1,844.66 from two NSF awards ($628.49 from r !imd $1219.17 from -- - - - -- . \). See Exh. 2, pages 7-8. A - ' The PI described the circumstances of this case in letters sent to the department chairman, the University police detective, the Student Behavior Committee, and OIG (Exhs. 5-8, and Exh. 14, pages 4-6). From these documents we learned that the subject was employed as a student lab aide by the PI fiom May 1992 until July 1994. Among other duties, the subject conducted chemical analyses on leaf samples. In July 1994, the PI became suspicious that the subject was falsely reporting work hours. The PI questioned the subject and reported the matter to the University police (Exhs. 7 and 9). Under questioning by the police, the subject confessed that she had falsified her time cards and fabricated the research data she claimed to have collected (Exh. 9 and 10). These data were ostensibly for leaf samples collected in a year-long field experiment by the PI and her colleagues during their expedition to<$ OIG learned that the subject had worked under supervision for over 1 year in the PI'S laboratory conducting routine chemical analyses on leaves designed "to estimate three measures of chemical defenses in the leaves" (Exh. 8, page 6). By September 1993, the PI had departed for a sabbatical and considered the student an experienced and trusted laboratory aide. The graduate student who had worked closely with the subject began preparing for her doctoral thesis defense and ceased supervising the subject. According to the PI, "[bleginning in 1992, [the subject] produced reliable and verifiable data on leaves fiom three year-long greenhouse experiments" (Exh. 6, page 1). In September 1993, the subject was working at night and on the weekends and allegedly attributed this to her class schedule and her work in the other laboratory. The subject was not required to submit formal Department - written or oral progress reports. i - - 4 / - - -- While she was i n sabbatical, the PI "instructed the staff to process unsigned time cards that were ) submitted by [the PI'S] staff during [the PI'S] sabbatical as long as the hours reported looked consistent with the hours reported for prior pay periods." Exhs. 5-8, Exh. 8, page 8. In December 1993, the subject provided the PI with sheets summarizing the raw data she claimed to have collected. Seven months later, in July 1994, when the PI asked her for the raw data, the subject allegedly told her, that, while she could not find them, she might have left them in one of a number of buildings on campus. The two walked to each facility, but did not find them. (Exhs. 5 and 7). The subject also told the PI that the data were "not fraudulent" but that some of the leaf samples she had analyzed had been "lost." In searching through her laboratory, the PI found the "lost" samples. The condition of the leaf samples was inconsistent with them having been analyzed. (Exh. 5 and 7, pages 2). The PI reported This sum is based on the subject's falsified time cards. However, prior to our request for these cards, the University provided us with several estimates of the amount of money the subject received and under which NSF grants she received the money. We believe the estimate provided in Exh. 2 is accurate because it is derived from the claims in the subject's falsified time cards. Exhs. 5, 6 and 7 contain several letters by the PI describing her research and her conversations with the subject about these matters. See also Exh. 8, which contains the PI'S response to our letter. Page 2 her concerns to the University police (Exh. 7 and 9) and the Student Behavior Committee (Exh. 14, page 4-6). The subject admitted to the PI that she had falsified her time cards and subsequently admitted to the University police that she had falsified her time sheets and fabricated the data (Exh. 9, pages 1- 3, and 9, Exh. 10, Exh. 11, page 3.) I The Court's Decision The subject was arrested on 23 September 1994 and released that same day. She was charged with a second degree felony and pled guilty to the misdemeanor offense of theft by deception (Exh.9 page 7, Exhs. 11 and 12). She was convicted in the Third Judicial District Court of on 7 April 1995. In lieu of a 12-month jail sentence, she was placed on probation for that time and ordered to pay of fine of $1200 and make restitution of $7807.' She was also instructed to write a letter of apology to the victim8(Exh. 12). Her probation officer told us that the letter of apology had been sent. However, during our conversations with, and letters to, the subject we requested copies of the letter of apology on several occasions. Although the subject promised, on each occasion, to forward a copy of the I letter to us, we never received it, or any other written communications, from the subject? Exh. 13. 1 The Universitv's Decision The PI reported her concerns to the Student Behavior Committee in July 1994; however, the University suspended its proceedings under its Student Code until the criminal case was completed. On 11 April 1995, the University's Student Behavior Committee heard the PI'S complaint. The Committee unanimously decided to dismiss the subject from the University. Exhs. 1 and 2. In a 23 June 1995 letter to the subject, the Committee informed her of its decision and said that if she chose to return to the University she would be required to make a full disclosure of the reasons for her dismissal to the Dean of Student Affairs and present reasons why she should be readmitted. Her Master Academic Record indicates that she is ineligible to register. Exhs. 2 and 14. 7 The Deputy County,Attorney stated that the University records "show that between September 14, 1993 and August 2, 1994, the defendant was paid $7807." (Exh. 9, page 9). 8 The PI said in August 1994 that the subject had "never expressed any sympathy for the victims of her dishonesty. Her only regret appears to be that she was caught." Exh. 14, page 6. The subject's only statement of remorse is found in the 29 November 1994 Presentence Investigation Report (Exh. 11, page 3). In that statement she admits to time card falsification and data fabrication and states that she "now [feels] a great deal of remorse for the crime I committed." Nowhere does she apologize to the victims of her crimes which include the PI, the other laboratory head, the graduate student, the laboratory personnel that had to reconstruct the data, and the greater scientific community. 9 In July 1997 we again contacted the subject to ask for a copy of the letter of apology. She said that she had not forwarded the letter to us, as promised, because she had not retained a copy of the letter she had sent to the victim. She said she had planned to get a copy of it from the court to forward to us, but, had not done so. Page 3 OIG's Conclusions I NSF defines misconduct in science, in relevant part, as "(1) Fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or other serious deviation from accepted practices in proposing, carrying out, or reporting results from activities funded by NSF . . . " (45 C.F.R. fj 689.1(a)(l)). For NSF to ,I 1 make a finding of misconduct in science, a preponderance of the evidence must show 1) that I the subject committed a bad act associated with NSF activities and 2) that the bad act was committed with a culpable state of mind (such as willful, knowing, or gross negligence) (45 C.F.R. 3 689.2(b)(2) and (d)). The Act We believe that a preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that the subject fabricated data to support the falsified time cards she submitted in connection with the PI'S NSF-supported research. When questioned by the University police, the subject confessed. ' W s . 9 and 10). The State of Mind We consider the subject's actions to be, minimally, willful. In circumstances where she had developed the trust of her supervisors and in which she had no oversight she falsified her time cards and allegedly claimed to be working at night or on the weekends, when she was not working at all. In December 1993, she provided the PI with data summary sheets. In July 1994, when the PI questioned her about the authenticity of the data, she did not admit to misconduct. She claimed to have lost the data and that some of the leaf samples were "lost." She admitted that she had falsified her time cards but maintained that her work was genuine. The PI subsequently found the "lost" samples; their condition indicated that they had not been processed for analysis. Only after she was unable to produce the raw data and was subsequently questioned by the police did she admit to both falsifying her time cards and fabricating data. The subject's behavior can be considered no less than intentional and willful: her actions were designed to achieve the purpose she desired. Specifically, she submitted time cards she knew contained false information in order to receive payment for work she had not performed. The time cards (an example is provided in Exh. 15) provides a space for the employee to fill in the number of "hours worked" each day and for the employee's and supervisor's signatures. For each of the 3 1 time cards submitted by the subject over a period of 11 months, she made different false claims about the time she had worked and successfully received payment on the basis of each of those false claims. She submitted fabricated data to support her false claims of work. She said she made up data to substitute for data she had "lost." When questioned, "[ilnstead of admitting the truth, my choice was to perpetuate the lie [I] had already begun." (Exh. 11, page 3). Her behavior, on being questioned by her supervisor about these data, demonstrates her awareness that her actions were wrong. Rather than admit to her "lies," she attempted to disguise her actions. She later Page 4 confessed-to falsifying her time sheets, and still later, confessed to fabricating her data. We I I1 concluded that a preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that the subject's I / behavior can be c o m e r e d no less than willful. Our Conclusion Work in research laboratories ultimately relies on trust and honesty. Students and support staff new to a laboratory are subject to a training period in which they learn techniques and their skill and the data they gather are closely scrutinized. At some point, they are either relegated to laboratory housekeeping chores or becomes trusted members of the research team. When their supervisors have developed sufficient trust in the quality of their work and I I they have proven their reliability and skill, undergraduate students, such as the subject, can be given the privilege of working on their own data-generating projects or trusted to perform routine analyses that are critical to other researcher's projects. Their work product is rarely subject to independent repetition for verification. This is a time-honored system central to the academic research enterprise. Abuses of this system are serious. They can introduce undetected errors into the research record, delay or disrupt research programs, and cause damage, sometimes irreparable, to the trust scientific colleagues must be able to place in each I other. The subject's action, in falsifying time cards and fabricating data, relied on and abused the trust inherent in this system. We concluded that a preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that the subject seriously deviated fiom accepted practices in the scientific community and, hence, committed misconduct in science under NSF's definition. OIG's Recommended Disposition When considering what actions to recommend, NSF's Misconduct in Science and Engineering regulation specifies that NSF officials should consider how serious the misconduct was, the intent with which it was committed, whether it was part of a pattern, and its connection to any other NSF activities (45 C.F.R. $689.2(b)). Seriousness Among the materials submitted by the PI were two descriptions of the serious consequences of the subject's actions on the research effort in her laboratory. In the PI'S letter to the University police detective (Exh. 7, page 2-3), she said Based on what [the subject] told me, I concluded that we ha[d] lost all the chemical data for our first and most important year-long field study. Although we have recently begun to analyze leaf material from a second year-long experiment (on fewer species), these data may not be useful because the leaves hav[e] sat around the lab for an entire year. Despite the serious consequences of [the subject's] dishonesty for myself, a collaborator (a graduate student at Page 5 5 t= - --. \ -and the lab as a whole, she never once expressed remorse or sympathy for our losses. Ultimately, the PI'S research program sustained less damage than she anticipated in her letter J only because the laboratory was lucky enough to be able to generate, after an additional year and a half, some substitutable data from a second, smaller set of leaf samples from the first year-long study. These leaves were collected 3 months after those the subject was to have analyzed and therefore are not identical in composition to those in the first set. (Exh. 8, page 5). The PI told the Student Behavior Committee that [the subject] had worked in my lab for 1 '/z years prior to her criminal behavior, and certainly knew the serious consequences of research fraud. Despite this knowledge, she exhibited no regard for the consequences for the research lab and individuals in that lab. In the end she sabotaged the results of a year-long (>$50,000) experiment in Peruvian rain forests and part of a student's dissertation at Harvard. . . . [The subject] has never expressed any sympathy for the victims of her dishonesty. Her only regret appears to be that she was caught. In view of these two observations, she should certainly never work in another scientific laboratory. Also, given the seriousness of [the subject's] crimes, I would ask your Committee to consider expelling her permanently from the University. [Exh. 14, page 6.1 We concur with the PI. The subject's actions are serious breaches of the ethical norms within the scientific community. First, in order to receive payment for her falsified time cards, the subject relied on and then exploited the trust implicit in the freedom traditionally provided to junior laboratory personnel to conduct their laboratory work at times that do not conflictwith their classes or study routines. Second, progress in science relies on the accurate and objective recording and reporting of research results. Without indication to the contrary, scientists trust that their colleagues and laboratory personnel are reporting their actual results. The subject abused this trust when she fabricated data. Third, when confronted, she unsuccessfilly attempted to disguise her actions by claiming the raw data and selected samples were lost. The PI subsequently found these lost samples and only when confronted by the University police, did the subject confess that she had fabricated data. Evidence of a Pattern The subject's falsification of time cards and fabrication of data are part of a pattern of misconduct. She falsified time cards under two sequential NSF awards that had a related research focus. This was not an action isolated to one laboratory. In connection with her unrelated research work in another laboratory, she also falsified time cards and fabricated data. In all, she falsified 31 time cards over an 11-month period and fabricated data to Page 6 support those time cards. Such behavior can only be considered a pattern of misconduct, not an isolated instance. Recommend NSF Action We believe that the court's and the University's actions do not protect the federal govenunent's interests. Individuals with the subject's laboratory skills. are in constant demand by federally supported research programs across the country. The subject has demonstrated that she is capable of working in a sophisticated research laboratory, but that she lacks the present responsibility and ,integrity necessary to do so. We believe that NSF should take action to protect the government's interests, and has several grounds to do so; Debarment is the most effective means of protecting the government's interests, and, given the seriousness of this case, the subject should be debarred under several NSF regulations. The subject should be debarred pursuant to a finding of misconduct in science under NSF's misconduct in science and engineering regulation (45 C.F.R. $ 689.2(a)(3)(ii)). The subject should also be debarred due to the lack of present responsibility inherent in her falsification of time cards and fabrication of research data (45 C.F.R § 620.305(d)). Finally, the subject should be debarred based on her conviction for theft by deception, under NSF's regulation allowing debarment for conviction for "[c]ornrnission of embezzlement, theft, forgery, bribery, falsification or destruction of records, making false statements, receiving stolen property, making false claims, or obstruction of justice . . . ." (45 C.F.R. § 620.305(a)(3)). It is of paramount importance that NSF address the subject's ethical failures in her conduct of scientific research. The subject's fabrication of data and her falsification of time cards were inextricably linked together and to the NSF-supported research being conducted in the PI'S laboratory. They show serious failures to internalize scientific research norms and to act with integrity when conducting scientific research; they warrant a finding of misconduct in science, followed by debarment. In addition, NSF has grounds for debarment based on her lack of present responsibility and criminal conviction. We therefore recommend that NSF: 1. Find that the subject committed misconduct in science when she seriously deviated from accepted practices by fabricating research data to justify the time cards she falsified. 2. Send the'.subjecta 'letter of reprimand regarding her misconduct in science.'' 3. Debar the subject for a period of 1 year.' ' lo This is a Group I action (see 45 C.F.R. 9 689.2(a)(l)(i)). " This is a Group 111 action (see 45 C.F.R. 5 689.2(a)(3)(ii)). Page 7
Data Tampering / Sabotage / Fabrication Grant Fraud
Published by the National Science Foundation, Office of Inspector General on 1999-04-26.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)