While this won’t satisfy everyone, oversight of the spending in the stimulus package will include scrutiny of science agencies. As the stimulus spending represents significant increases for most of these agencies, this only makes sense. The House Science and Technology Committee has held hearings on the subject, and various agencies are training their personnel to be more aware of the potential for fraud and abuse. While past practice suggests that NASA and DOE will be the more likely agencies for fraud and abuse, the sheer volume of the funding increase at the National Institutes of Health should draw additional scrutiny.
This is all well and good. I simply hope that the differences between scientific misconduct and contractor fraud and abuse are remembered moving forward. Both are serious, but finding evidence of each will require different skills and techniques, and the deception at the heart of each offense is very different. Inappropriate cost overruns or profligate spending are not the same thing as fraudulent grant applications or reporting of research results. As the former is the more likely abuse, I’m concerned that incidents of the former will be confused for the latter. Given the challenges scientists have in communicating what they do right, problems in communicating what they do wrong are likely, and could be more damaging.