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Volume 1, September 2003

Administrative Investigations

Reports Forwarded to the Deputy Director

PI Takes Ideas for NSF Proposal From Another PI's Proposal

We received an allegation that a proposal submitted to NSF contained more than a page of text and associated ideas plagiarized from a confidential research proposal submitted by other scientists to another agency. After confirming that the PI had received the research proposal for merit review prior to his submission of the NSF proposal, we wrote separately to the PI and co-PI requesting explanations. Only the PI responded, admitting that he received the research proposal for review and accepting full responsibility for the copied text. The PI said he developed the ideas, working closely with one of the research proposal's authors. He opined that, because he suggested one of the research proposal's authors as a reviewer for his NSF proposal, he clearly did not plagiarize intentionally. We determined that the allegation had substance and referred it to the university for investigation.

The university committee interviewed the PI, the co-PI, several experts, and one of the research proposal's authors. It exonerated the co-PI from any culpability, but found that the PI knowingly copied the language and ideas from the research proposal, an act that was a significant departure from the standards within his field of study. The committee determined that the copied material represented the scientific core of the research proposal and the NSF proposal. It concluded that the PI's plagiarism from a confidential proposal was egregious, representing a threat to the integrity of science because (1) it is harder to discover plagiarism in confidential proposals; (2) it raises the possibility of individual gain with the use of new and novel ideas not yet in the published arena; and (3) it potentially discourages scientists from presenting their best ideas in confidential proposals.

The Committee concluded that the PI's plagiarism represented very serious research misconduct, aggravated by: (1) the PI's breach of the confidentiality in the peer review process clearly established by the agency; (2) the PI's "inability or unwillingness" to comprehend the serious nature of his misconduct; and (3) the PI's interception of OIG's initial Federal Express letter to the co-PI, which prevented the co-PI from responding to defend himself, potentially obstructing NSF's inquiry.

The university sanctioned the PI by: 1) reprimanding him; 2) withdrawing any federal government proposals he submitted as PI; 3) removing his name from pending federal government proposals on which he was a co-PI or key personnel; 4) prohibiting him from submitting proposals for funding to any federal agency for 2 years; 5) prohibiting him from acting as a peer reviewer for research proposals for any federal agency for 3 years; and 6) requiring him to certify and provide assurances for 3 years for any proposal he submits to any funding source that the work in the proposal is original to him or appropriately cited. Based on the evidence, we concurred with the university's findings and accepted its report.

We forwarded our report to NSF, recommending that NSF make a finding of research misconduct. Consistent with the university's actions, we recommended the PI receive a letter of reprimand, be debarred for 2 years from receiving any federal funds and, further, to protect the merit review process, we recommended that the PI be prohibited from reviewing any NSF proposals for 3 years. This case is awaiting the agency's adjudication.

  • Debarment Recommended in Plagiarism Case
    (see Semiannual for Details)

  • Action by the Deputy Director (see Semiannual for Details)

  • Significant Administrative Cases (see Semiannual for Details)

  • Employee Who Abused Telephone Privilege
    (see Semiannual for Details)

  • Failure to Comply with Certification
    (see Semiannual for Details)
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 Jul 08, '04