EcoHealth Alliance Statement in Response to DHHS OIG Audit Report A-05-21-00025 January 25, 2023
The Office of Inspector-General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (OIG) has released a report of its 18-month-long audit of National Institutes of Health (NIH) and EcoHealth Alliance (EHA) compliance with Federal requirements to ensure proper monitoring and use of grant funds for three NIH awards to EHA totaling approximately $8.0 million for the period covering FY2014 through FY2021. The OIG audit objectives were to determine whether: (1) NIH monitored grants to EcoHealth in accordance with Federal requirements; and whether (2) EcoHealth used and managed its NIH grant funds in accordance with Federal requirements.1
EHA welcomes the OIG oversight and collaborated fully and transparently with this audit.
We note that the OIG did not find significant issues with EHA’s grant oversight and compliance, summarizing its findings as follows: “EcoHealth had steps in place to conduct risk assessments of its subrecipients, and also had standardized checklists to document routine monitoring of its subrecipients.” EHA accepts OIG’s recommendations for how to ensure that subawards were compliant with Federal requirements; how to ensure compliance with subrecipient monitoring and reporting; and how to comply better with certain public disclosure requirements associated with reporting subaward funding. In fact, EHA had already corrected certain procedures addressed by the OIG during the time period covered by the audit, or corrected them once we were notified of a finding by the OIG audit team.
We note the additional OIG audit team finding that EHA “did not always use its grant funds in accordance with Federal requirements, resulting in $89,171 in unallowable costs.” This amounts to roughly 1% of the NIH grant awards to EHA: put another way, the OIG found that EHA did comply with Federal requirements 99% of the time.
To place these findings in context, it is important to note that this DHHS OIG audit was similar in objectives and scope to other routine audits of Federal grantees. For example, in the period 2014 – 2022, the DHHS OIG conducted audits of a range of universities and states (ranging from the University of California San Diego, the University of Colorado, and the University of North Carolina, as well as the states of North Carolina and Colorado) and found unallowable costs ranging from $202,401 to more than $107 million dollars (ranging from <1% to 100% of the costs sampled in the audits2). The NIH itself was subject to at least four other DHHS OIG audits from 2019 to 2022 that found a range of shortcomings in policies, procedures, and controls unrelated to EHA in such areas as clinical trials reporting and post-award oversight and monitoring.
EHA has already reimbursed the NIH for the total in unallowable costs as determined by the OIG. We found the OIG analysis instructive in several cases where EHA did not follow the appropriate requirement (in two cases these involved expenses as small as a $19 overpayment and a miscoded $5 beverage) and have corrected these minor errors. In other cases, EHA disagrees with the OIG interpretation of the Federal requirements and we are seeking clarification on these instances with the NIH.
During the audit process, we discovered that EHA has been underpaid by the NIH for indirect cost allocation equivalent to $126,391. The OIG notes this in the report and EHA has pursued reimbursement of these funds owed to EHA by the NIH.
There were only two substantive areas of disagreement with the OIG over their findings – one concerning the timeliness of EHA’s progress Year 5 Progress report on an R01 grant from NIAID, the other an issue around whether an experiment that showed unexpected heightened genome copies per gram at an early stage constituted “enhanced growth” that required further review. We do not agree with the OIG’s characterization of these two issues and have provided a detailed explanation and additional supporting documentation to the OIG.
During the 8-year period covered by this OIG audit, the Federal requirements changed multiple times, and EHA policies changed to match them. Many of the findings occurred under a different management team. And the OIG audit does not reflect a series of new requirements on EHA grants that have already been put in place by NIH and set standards that are above and beyond the normal procedures for subawardees.
The 18-month audit process has helped EHA to sharpen its policies and practices to enable even better compliance with NIH and other Federal rules in the future. We appreciate the professionalism of the OIG review staff and the analysis provided in this audit report.
1 See DHHS OIG audit report A-05-21-00025, available at https://oig.hhs.gov/reports-and-publications.
2 Data taken from representative DHHS OIG audit reports on Northwestern University, UC San Diego, State of North Carolina, NIH, the University of Colorado, and the University of North Carolina, available to the public at https://oig.hhs.gov/reports-and-publications/index.asp