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Federal labs accused of budget waste.

U.S. taxpayers provide more than $10 billion in support of the nation's 39 federally funded but privately operated research and development centers. These labs, which net an estimated 10 percent of all federal R&D funds, have said, "Trust us, we'll spend your money wisely," says Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). But a report issued July 8 by the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, which Levin chairs, contends that the labs have operated for years under "an inadequate, inconsistent patchwork of federal cost, accounting, and auditing controls." The result, Levin asserts, "has been excellent research, but at an unacceptable cost... the wasteful or inappropriate use of millions of federal dollars."

Among examples cited in the 67-page report:

* Lawrence Livermore (Calif.) National Laboratory did not seek competitive bids before leasing 58 vehicles from the University of California, which runs the lab. Livermore paid $150,000 in administrative costs, charges that continued even after the cars had been paid off and the university owned them.

* Livermore scientists used purchasing systems for weapons research to order more than $595,000 worth of personal mementos. When the Energy Department balked at footing the bill, the University of California sued. Litigation is in progress.

* Los Alamos (N.M.) National Laboratory overspent its $34 million limit on discretionary research by $97 million in fiscal years 1986 and 1987. "Due to inadequate controls and [Energy Department] oversight," states the report, Argonne (Ill.) National Laboratory exceeded its funding limits over one three-year span - but only by $5 million.

* Air Force program managers approved its contractor-operated labs to perform 18 projects without determining whether Air Force personnel or outside contractors could do the work less expensively The cost: "nearly $1 million more than necessary"

The new report offers 10 accounting recommendations to lower the labs' costs and to improve their auditing.
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Title Annotation:federally funded, privately operated research and development centers
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jul 25, 1992
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