Report 96042 Summary - November 1997

University of California:

Its Award of Breast Cancer Research Funds Is Equitable; However, Some Procedures Should Be Improved

Results in Brief

In 1994, the Legislature designated the University of California (UC) to administer the Breast Cancer Research Program (program), which is funded by cigarette and tobacco products taxes. The program's purpose is to fund research into the cause, cure, treatment, earlier detection, and prevention of breast cancer. To accomplish this, UC solicits, evaluates, and awards research grants. During fiscal year 1994-95, the first year funds were available, the program awarded approximately $19.1 million in research grants. For the next two fiscal years, it awarded $13.9 million and $14.7 million, respectively.

Our current review concentrated on UC's awards process for fiscal year 1996-97, its third funding cycle, and follows up on our report issued in April 1996, which focused on the first cycle. We found that, overall, UC's current process is equitable. Application scoring is fair and generally consistent with program policy. In addition, the awards process did not reflect a bias in favor of UC and its affiliated institutions.

However, we have certain concerns with the program's policies and procedures. For example, the program does not require its reviewers to sign conflict-of-interest statements, which is National Institutes of Health policy. Also, the program does not consistently apply its "responsiveness" policy, which describes the appropriate disposition of applications that do not fully respond to grant requirements. Further, the program has not developed policies and procedures to process its "wild card" grants, applications the review committee believes should be considered for funding once minor technical flaws are addressed. In addition, authority to make key decisions in the appeals process rests with only one person who is not independent of the decision to approve funding originally. Lastly, despite a recommendation in our first audit, program administrators have not developed a formal policy for retaining documents from the grant applications review process.

On the other hand, we did find that, as recommended, the program improved its administration of travel and entertainment expenses.

Recommendations

To further improve the administration of its grant awards process, the Breast Cancer Research Program should do the following:

· Obtain signed conflict-of-interest statements from its review committee members;

· Implement its proposal to clarify procedures for nonresponsive grants;

· Establish and implement procedures for grants identified as wild cards;

· Assign a group or individual separate from the person who approves grants for funding to receive and opine on program appeals; and

· Retain for a minimum of three years the review committee members' original scoring ballots. These documents provide much of the evidence that the grant awards process is unbiased and equitable. Alternatively, the program should arrange for an independent annual verification of the accuracy of its scoring summaries.

Agency Comments

In response to our report, UC stated that it had already revised its written policy on responsiveness and is taking steps to implement the remaining four recommendations.


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