Center for Severe Weather Research agrees with DOJ on federal grants
The Center for Severe Weather Research (CSWR), Boulder, Colorado, has reached a settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice (DoJ) in a dispute over federal grants. The DoJ acted on behalf of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The deal stems from a dispute over what the government said were improper federal grant applications and inadequate documentation, accounting and controls between Jan. 1, 2014 and June 30, 2020. The DoJ has in Additionally claimed that CSWR President Joshua Wurman and his wife, CSWR Contract Manager Ling Chan received monthly rent from CSWR in excess of what is allowed by federal regulations.
The DoJ also argued that CSWR took funds it did not need, as evidenced by CSWR’s investment in a $3 million certificate of deposit, and that, in addition to excessive rent payments, the funds were used for at least one personal expense that was not reimbursed.
CSWR has agreed to repay over $2.4 million and has already repaid $706,905. The Wurmans themselves agreed to repay $203,766, according to the settlement agreement.
By signing the settlement agreement, CSWR and the Wurmans did not admit liability and the United States did not admit that their claims were without merit. As part of the settlement, once all refunds have been made, the Wurmans will be released from any civil or administrative monetary claims made by the United States.
“Each year, the National Science Foundation awards millions of dollars in grants to promote promising scientific research,” NSF Inspector General Allison Lerner said in a statement. “However, the foundation expects grant recipients to adhere to federal cost principles. Expenses charged to grants must be allowable, allocable and reasonable. I commend the United States Attorney’s Office and our investigative partners for their work in enforcing federal grant rules in this case. »
Joshua Wurman maintains that there was no intentional malice or deceit in their actions. “CSWR, a very small research organization, with only a small accounting infrastructure, has followed what it believes to be proper billing and accounting processes since its inception, processes that have been reviewed and accepted repeatedly by the NSF, and independently audited annually,” Wurman wrote. in an email to The Nonprofit Times.
“After concerns were raised in 2019 by the NSF regarding certain aspects of CSWR’s accounting, CSWR identified unspent funds that should be returned to the government,” Wurman continued. “CSWR never spent those funds. Rather than accept the refund, the NSF referred the matter to the DOJ for further investigation. CSWR has actively, fully, and transparently cooperated with the NSF and DOJ. The CSWR happily reimbursed the government for what the CSWR and DOJ had agreed it owed. Rent had been openly charged for years at fair rates and had never been questioned by the NSF. The DOJ requested a calculation using a methodology well below the market, which CSWR agreed to.
“Critically, after a long and thorough investigation, no intentional wrongdoing was discovered, no fraud was found and no fines were issued.”
A Form 990-EZ filed with GuideStar by Candid for the year ending December 31, 2018 shows that the organization (as the Center for High Impact Weather Studies) receives $34,312 in contributions, gifts and grants in the under a total income of $34,334. Its year-end expenses were $18,791 and its net assets were $69,349.
Asked about a more recent financial statement, Wurman wrote, “CSWR is essentially idle now with no NSF funds coming in since early 2019. CSWR laid off all of its employees a long time ago and I have just been here to take care of of the government investigation. CSWR was essentially killed during this process and has no active accounting department. Therefore, I am unable to provide you with a newer 990. The 2018 form reflects our last healthy and fully active year.