UNTHSC upgrades its research accounting system following internal review and repayment

UNT Health Science Center has extensively revamped its system of tracking federally funded research projects after an internal review revealed flaws in its prior time and effort reporting practices.

UNTHSC discovered the flaws in 2015 and subsequently self-reported the issues to the federal government. Federal officials accepted UNTHSC’s findings and worked together with UNTHSC to resolve and close the matter.

Since the discovery, UNTHSC has restructured its Division of Research and Innovation, hiring new compliance staffers, improving accounting processes and investing in new tools, training and technology to ensure compliance efforts match the strength of its biomedical research.

Anuja Ghorpade, PhD, who has served as Vice President of Research at UNTHSC since July 2016, said her team’s top strategic priority has been improving management of research compliance.

“We are improving and sustaining a culture of compliance and accountability through better training, tools, education and administrative support,” Dr. Ghorpade said. “We now have a plan in place that solidifies the infrastructure for a high-functioning research administration compliance program.”

The Division of Research has made changes in four key areas:

  • People: UNTHSC has created five new research administration positions and reassigned 10 existing employees into new positions related to compliance, management and oversight of research programs. Five of the new hires have a combined 33 years of experience in higher education grant administration.
  • Process: UNTHSC enhanced its procedures, business processes and internal controls to improve compliance. Changes include expanded review of payroll documents, enhanced monitoring procedures and improved availability of best practices documents to aid faculty and support staff. For each project, escalation reminders are sent to the principal investigator, chair or director, dean, VP of research and the provost to ensure time and effort reports are certified within 60 days of receipt.
  • Training: UNTHSC held 17 mandatory training sessions for 306 employees in December 2015 and 19 sessions for 184 employees in December 2016. All training sessions ended with a quiz that requires a 100 percent passing rate. UNTHSC also has implemented ongoing online training.
  • Tools and technology: UNTHSC has invested in upgraded software and new data systems that promote transparency and provide more easily accessible ways to manage research projects.

The $13 million settlement covers errors made between 2011 and 2016, when UNTHSC improperly tracked and certified researchers’ “time and effort,” required to be reported when working on federal grants. Upon learning of the possible compliance issues, UNTHSC initiated an internal audit and investigation that reviewed approximately 120 NIH-funded research projects over the six-year time period and implemented immediate corrective actions.

In the summer of 2017, the most recent time period for which data is available, UNTHSC reviewed time and effort reporting on 120 projects. Ninety-seven were certified online within four weeks of initial distribution, while the other 23 were certified online within six weeks.

“Integrity is one of our core values, and that means owning, correcting and learning from our mistakes,” said Dr. Michael Williams, President of UNTHSC. “We’ve strengthened our internal controls to promote accountability and transparency.”

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