J. Kirk McGill was a Senior Auditor at the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), the agency responsible for auditing the Department of Defense’s (DoD) contract expenditures. He is also a whistleblower whose disclosures to Congress have resulted in multiple Congressional hearings, the termination of a nonprofit from grants worth over $400 million, and the closure of a loophole in contracting policy for nonprofit grantees.
Importantly, his case also sets a precedent for federal whistleblowers to engage in whistleblowing activities while on official time. None of this was easy, and it came—as is too often the case for whistleblowers—at a personal cost to McGill.
In 2013, McGill and his DCAA team were loaned out to the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Inspector General (IG) to conduct a follow-up audit of the $433 million construction grant NSF had awarded for a project called the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The project was not competitively bid, and despite an earlier DCAA audit finding serious problems with the initial proposal, NSF awarded it to a nonprofit organization called NEON, Inc.—a nonprofit focused solely on the project.
McGill, who was the Auditor-in-Charge, and his team found that NEON, Inc.’s accounting system was seriously flawed and lacked important supporting documentation. The audit also found poor budget controls that meant the project managers wouldn’t know if the program ran over budget—even tens of millions of dollars over budget—until it was too late to prevent. (The NSF later admitted that the project had run $80 million over budget.) As concerning as those numbers are, the audit also found that NEON, Inc. was abusing a $1.8 million category of funds called “management fees,” which were being used to pay for unallowable costs like alcohol, lobbying, and a lavish holiday party. McGill reported two instances of suspected fraud to the NSF IG through the normal channels. The IG investigated and referred the cases to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for potential prosecution, but DOJ declined to pursue them [p.3].
When McGill examined the requirements of reporting suspected fraud in an audit report, he found himself trapped.
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