Monday, February 23, 2015

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks 2

More hi-jinks from the crew in Cambridge.

Amanda Preston was hip deep in the financials of Willie Soon's support network.  As the Advancement and External Affairs Officer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics she negotiated the terms for his support from Exxon Mobile among other things.  Today she has moved on to be Executive Director of the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard University, where, amongst other things she works works with faculty to squeeze out more dimes.

Looking at the FOI document dump Eli reads this interesting bit in the first Email, from Amanda Preston to various people at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

You will see that $22,181.00 was allocated to task 40301770IS50AP. This amount is equivalent to the indirect costs that would have been charged if the gift had been a grant. on instructions from Charles Alcock, I asked ExxonMobil to allow us to reclassify that amount as an unrestricted contribution. Judith Batty assented to our request (see attached email). 
Charles Alcock is the Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Email continues
I have the following questions and comments: Charles Alcock agrees that this money should be used to defray any shortfall in development funding. Do we move it from 301770 to 101600? Or to the DDF
The DDF is the Director's Discretionary Fund, which is a fund that is dispersed at the, guess what, discretion of the director.  These funds in research centers are used for program development, bridge funding when a soft money person is out of grant/contract funding, or for tea.

Now Eli, maybe Russell, does not have a clue of how money from indirect cost accounts flow at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, but he expects that as the norm, some of it flows to the PI as a reimbursement for undividable costs, some to the PI's department for same and some to the institution director, but the lion's share goes to things like electricity and heating costs, and oh yes, to make sure that the toilet's flush and that the library maintains subscriptions.  Moving the money to development or the DDF means that it was totally available to the director for other stuff.  Oh yeah, and probably that Willie did not get his cut.  This cut is important to defray many costs including travel to conferences.

One of the gotcha's in research institutions like the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is that you cannot use federal grant money to support applications for federal grant money.  What this means in practice is that if someone is completely supported by federal grant money, at least in the audit sense, they cannot spend time writing further grants.  The out for this is to allocate a small amount of a researcher's time to general support from the institution, which, so the argument goes, covers the time and effort of the researcher and the support staff in applying for further federal funds. Coming up with non-Federal money to do this is a bit of a problem.

Charles Alcock is one of the principles in the Origins of Life Initiative which was seed funded by Harvard in 2005.


Russell Seitz said...

Eli should know that Willie works for the Smithsonian, not Harvard, and that the Harvard College Observatory, whose really cool brass & mahogony 15 inch refractor is still awing undergrads after 170 years, buys its own tea, which readers are welcome to try any afternoon at the Phillips Library.

The HSAO, and the HSCFA are mostly space science warrens, whuch explains why boutique satellite builders and aerospace engineers like Willie frequent the place. Last time I spoke to Alcock was about finding Oort cloud science coauthors for a paper on energy storage in cometary materials caught out in the Big Chill.

EliRabett said...

If anyone from the Smithsonian reads those emails, Alcock may be Oort clouding with you. He definitely ripped money from the operating budget into his pocket.