The government may be wasting millions of dollars by paying for the same research projects twice, according to a new analysis of grant and contract records.
Researchers from Virginia Tech and Duke University compared more than 600,000 grant summaries issued to federal agencies since 1985. What they found was almost $70 million that might have been spent on projects that were already at least partly financed. The results were published in the journal Nature.
Harold R. Garner, director of medical informatics and systems at Virginia Tech, was inspired to perform the study after reading a 2012 Government Accountability Office report on reducing duplication and overlap in federal services. He had long used software to find plagiarism and duplicate publications, he said, "so I thought, what a great thing to do."
To hunt for duplicate grants, Dr. Garner looked for similar or identical language in grant summaries. His team then manually searched the flagged grants.
While he acknowledges that the government may already have identified some of the overlap he discovered, he believes the amount of fraud found in the study makes a strong case for doing a more thorough investigation.
The problem is not that there is too much money in scientific research, he emphasized, but not enough.
"Funding of government grants is at an all-time low, so people are getting desperate in finding the money to fund their labs," he said. "I would hope that this would be used to improve how we distribute funds and not be used to cut the budget." DOUGLAS QUENQUAscience
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.