COVID-19 is not the sole focus of the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) these days. On May 15th, the Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) announced that it added to its Work Plan a “Review of Institutions of Higher Education Grantees Receiving National Institutes of Health Awards” to address areas of potential risk at institutions of higher education (“IHE”).

As part of HHS, the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) is the primary United States agency in charge of biomedical and public health research. Over four-fifths of the billions of dollars it invests annually goes to more than 300,000 individuals at over 2,500 IHE, including universities, medical schools, academic medical centers, and other research institutions around the globe. Justifying its decision to undertake this review, OIG noted concerns over foreign threats to US intellectual property within IHE and cited fraud and abuse risks such as inappropriate or unsupported charges, lack of financial conflict-of-interest policies, and deficiencies in internal controls related to financial management systems. This review intersects with heightened enforcement of foreign gift and contract reporting, and investigations of major research institutions by the U.S. Department of Education.

The addition of this Work Plan item is significant. To the extent OIG identifies compliance issues in grant administration, penalties can be substantial and go well beyond the amount awarded. Moreover, should the government initiate a false claim prosecution, an institution’s reputation and ability to obtain future NIH funding can be severely damaged.

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If you would like more information on the applicability and implications of the OIG Work Plan to your IHE, please contact your Husch Blackwell attorney.