Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials gave $542 million to colleges and universities in grants to study everything from pollution caused by backyard grilling to hotel shower use, but those funds have never been audited by a government watchdog.
EPA awarded the funds to 341 schools in more than 3,100 grants from 2009 to 2014, according a Daily Caller News Foundation analysis of more than 100,000 agency awards compiled by Open The Books.
The last audit by EPA’s inspector general of any of those grants, however, was 10 years ago, and then was only conducted in response to a specific complaint.
Instead, the IG relies on single audits – audits of the each university as a whole – though Lagda did not say who conducts those inspections.
Officials with Open The Books – a non-profit government accountability group that is digitizing billions of dollars of spending at all levels of government – think change is needed.
"How is the EPA supposed to protect the environment when it can’t even protect its own grant-making system from mis-allocation of resources and taxpayer abuse," Open The Books Founder Adam Andrzejewski told TheDCNF. "It’s time for a deep, line-by-line forensic audit of EPA disbursements.
"Just this week, the EPA was found to have violated the anti-lobbying laws in its social media blitz pushing a clean water rule," Andrzejewski told TheDCNF. "The EPA’s decisions on college grant-making provide further proof that it is on an ideological crusade and has little regard for the law."
An agency spokesman claimed, however, that EPA’s internal controls carefully monitor grants.
"Once the EPA makes a grant award, it carefully monitors the grant. This includes administrative and programmatic post-award monitoring, unliquidated obligation reviews, and ensuring that the college or university submits required progress reports. If monitoring demonstrates non-compliance by the college or university, the EPA takes appropriate corrective action under its grant regulations," an EPA spokesman who asked not to be identified told TheDCNF.
The IG did audit the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) research grant program in 2013.
STAR "advances science that addresses priority environmental and public health issues for use by the scientific community and contributes to the general body of science knowledge used at all levels of federal and state governments," the EPA spokesman said.
The EPA’s STAR program funded 220 projects with a $150 million total, according to the IG.
But that’s not the only example of wasteful spending on research grants.
Meanwhile, funds "actually directed to legitimate ecosystem restoration efforts overlap with activities already heavily subsidized by other non-Great Lakes focused federal programs," the Oklahoma Republican wrote.
The EPA awarded nearly $65 million to colleges for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative from 2010 when the program started to 2014, according to TheDCNF’s analysis.
Additionally, reports several times per year highlight examples of questionable EPA grants to universities and colleges. Past examples include a $15,000 grant to the University of Tulsa to monitor shower use at hotels
, and another $15,000 was awarded to the University of California, Riverside to develop technology that reduces air pollutants from barbecues
"The award process for grants include a rigorous external review process and an internal agency review to ensure that the proposed research and project proposal are technically sound and relevant to EPA’s mission and national science needs," the EPA spokesman said.
"Is the EPA engaging in sound environmental policy decisions, blatant wasteful spending, or just funding manufactured consent?" Andrzejewski told TheDCNF.
Of the $542 million EPA awarded to colleges, the University of Washington was the top recipient over the six-year period, receiving $32.6 million. Michigan State University and Cornell University followed, respectively receiving $19.2 million and $17.1 million.
"Today’s environmental challenges are complex in nature and necessitate complex solutions," the EPA spokesman said. "Researchers at colleges and universities are on the leading edge of finding these types of answers."
Those three schools alone represented just 3 percent of the recipient colleges, but received nearly one-third of the total dollars the EPA awarded to universities.
"Funding amounts awarded through grants vary depending on the grant competition and complexities of research requested," the EPA spokesman said.
Much of the University of Washington’s funds came from just one project – a 10-year longitudinal study that began in 2004 to study the relationship between air pollutants and atherosclerosis and clinical cardiovascular disease. The college raked in nearly $33 million for the project in total.
Big 10 schools topped the recipients in terms of the number of awards, with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earning the most with 72 grants, followed by Michigan State and the University of Wisconsin-Madison with, respectively, 64 and 59 grants.
Also, both the universities of Washington and Illinois are heavily liberal. Husky employees made $2.97 million in campaign contributions to Democrats – more than 20 times what they gave to Republicans – while the Fighting Illini donated $1.6 million to Democrats – nearly six times more than to Republicans, TheDCNF previously reported.
"Directing millions of grant dollars to predominantly left-leaning projects or institutions is another example of the EPA pursuing its ideological interests ahead of the public interest," Andrzejewski told TheDCNF. "The EPA decisions are so colored by partisanship that every grant-making decision must be given scrutiny."