"What we will hear today is a story of taxpayer dollars going to bloated overhead rather than to scientific research. It is a story of excess and arrogance, compounded by lax governmental oversight." Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) thus opened a March 13 congressional hearing investigating alleged misuses of indirect costs reimbursements by Stanford University.

In the two months since that hearing, payment of indirect costs has become a matter of public debate, not to mention public ridicule. These costs--a university's expenses for maintaining its physical plant, its personnel, its library, and other services that support research--are tacked onto individual grants. Reminiscent of the Defense Department's payment of hundreds of dollars for replacement toilet seats, the Stanford case in particular, and the indirect costs issue in general, have come to be perceived as a new high in bureaucratic bumbling, as well as the frittering away of scarce government resources.


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