USF to hire more grant help after money mishap

USF Provost Renu Khator said Wednesday the Office of Research is preparing to hire several more administrative staff in order to ensure faculty expenditures to grants are being handled appropriately.

“We have to recognize and come to grips with the fact that our research office has become very complex,” Khator said.

The announcement comes after a University Audit and Compliance report cited that former Director of the Institute of Black Life Geoffrey Okogbaa used grant money to purchase unnecessary equipment such as a large plasma television and plane tickets for personal family trips. According to the audit, Okogbaa mismanaged more than $175,000 in grant money.

“These were charges that shouldn’t have been approved, and they were slipping through the cracks,” Vice Provost for the Office of Faculty and Program Development Dwayne Smith said of the Office of Research staff overseeing the grants that went to Okogbaa. “What’s happened is our number of grants has actively expanded in number, and the kinds of grants we’re getting has outpaced the infrastructure of the Office of Research. The question we’re going to need to answer is, ‘Where’s the money going to come from to do it?’ We certainly need to beef up that office.”

Smith said Khator has sought funding from Academic Affairs to find six senior level grant specialists, and Vice President of Research Robert Chang would begin the process of recruitment.

“These individuals will be working at the college level to review and make sure faculty understand what expenses are appropriate and under the guidelines of each individual grant,” Chang said. “I think it’s important we have enough staff managing grant contracts to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

Chang said there has been an increased need for more grant writers as the demands and terms of each grant contract requires more review.

“When you get to $300 million, it’s going to be harder and harder to meet all the demands,” Chang said. “One thing to keep in mind is there’s literally thousands of researchers. This is just one incident – 99.9 percent of faculty are following the guidelines and are doing a great job.”

Smith added that USF isn’t in the clear yet.

“Even more needs to be done,” he said. “This really has to do with making a more efficient and fluid operation in the Office of Research.”