U.S. Likely to Check on Researchers

Government auditors are increasingly likely to investigate the files of individual departments to substantiate the work done by Harvard professors on federally-financed projects.

University officials expect that auditors will ask to see detailed records showing the time spent on federal projects by "non-professional" staff and the percentage of "effort" committed by the "professionals"--primarily professors, instructors, research associates, and graduate students.

Harvard has reluctantly asked all departments to fill out such monthly reports in order to comply with increasingly strict government accounting regulations. Though many professors consider the reports an infringement of their academic freedom, the University felt that to ignore the new rules would be to risk losing federal grants.

Until now, a project supervisor had merely submitted a list of "reasonable labor charges" to the University Comptroller's office. These lists will continue to be required, but backing them up will be the more detailed "time" and "effort" reports. These records will probably be left with each department, and it is there that the auditors will likely want to come.

The new procedure will not mean, however, that every project will immediately be reviewed. Government auditors--either from the department issuing the grant or from the General Accounting Office--check projects on a random basis. It could be many years before some contracts are looked into.

Nor will departments face absolutely uniform standards. Auditors, University officials say, vary in their demands. "If the records are there, it's a subjective judgement. But if they're not there it's a prima facle evidence for a disallowance of the contract," Carl W. Janke, the University Comptroller, said last week.

It is felt by some officials, however, that the new regulations will eventually force some departments to tighten up on their bookkeeping.

For example, one man pointed out, administrative time on some grants has been figured on a straight percentage basis. If auditors demanded an explanation of that percentage, it might be difficult to justify, he said.

Other officials are worried that the government will eventually ask for time--instead of effort--reports from professors. But though University administrators have for years fought a time evaluation, there are some officials who believe it is inevitable. "It's the light at the end of the tunnel," said one man, "but we don't know exactly how long the tunnel is."