by James A. Bacon
In addition to collecting pay from George Mason University and the federally funded, non-profit Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES), climate scientist Jagadish Shukla also enjoyed some perks not normally due university professors. IGES would pay for business-class airline travel, expenses for Shukla’s wife to accompany him on some IGES-related travel, and the cost leasing of a vehicle for up to $7,200 per year, according to a memo outlining his proposed compensation obtained by Bacon’s Rebellion.
IGES base compensation to Shukla was set at $175 per hour “for hours actually devoted to the affairs of IGES,” up to a maximum of 40 hours per week, according to a memo entitled “President’s Compensation Package” and prepared by attorney Steven W. Jacobson with the firm West & Feinberg, PC. In addition Shukla was to receive an annual bonus equal to 7% of total base compensation and to be guaranteed an increase in compensation, absent any action by the board, of 3.5% yearly.
Shukla, whose scientific specialty is creating climate models, shot to national prominence last year when he and several of his GMU colleagues signed a letter calling for the Obama administration to prosecute corporate climate “deniers” under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law. Global Warming skeptics quickly retorted that he had been pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary from the federally funded IGES while also being paid a full-time GMU salary.
As revealed by Bacon’s Rebellion, Shukla did acquire a conflict-of-interest waiver in 2013 from George Mason for his involvement with IGES, noting in his Request for Waiver form that he had “received annual salary in excess of $10,000.” However, it is unclear whether members of the conflict-of-interest committee knew that Shukla, in point of fact, received $343,000 in salary from IGES that year — plus substantial benefits.
According to Jacobson’s memo outlining Shukla’s proposed compensation plan, compensation of the IGES president (Shukla) was determined by the IGES Board of Directors. The $175 hourly rate, noted Jacobson, “is substantially lower than compensation levels of chief executive officers of for-profit companies of similar size in the region, and, while specific information on their compensation is not readily available, is believed to be comparable to or lower than senior professor compensation levels at major research universities in the region.”
It is not clear from the memo why Shukla’s compensation would be based upon a comparison with “for profit companies” of similar size. Also, the memo makes no mention of the fact that Shukla also was collecting a salary from George Mason University.
Shukla was required to travel “fairly extensively” for the benefit of IGES, the memo stated. “Subject to the availability of funds, he shall be entitled to travel in business class,” wrote Jacobson. If federal grants to IGES did not permit compensation for business-class travel, the difference between economy and business “will be paid from grants or other funds that do not carry such restrictions.” If business class seats are not available and travel is urgently required, the president was authorized to travel first class.
Also, states the letter: “If the president deems it essential that his wife (Anastasia Shukla, Business Manager) accompany him on IGES related travel, he is authorized to approve her travel subject to the availability of unrestricted IGES funds.”
According to IGES’ 990 Form filed for 2012, the Institute paid a total of $82,102 in travel expenses that year. The form did not break out expenses incurred by Shukla, his wife, and others on the IGES payroll.
The IGES travel policy was more open-ended than that allowed by GMU. According to GMU’s current “Travel Authorization and Reimbursement” Policy page:
Generally, airline travel cannot exceed the lowest rates charged for nonrefundable tourist/coach fare with a reasonable number of stops given the distance traveled. … Supervisors may approve business class travel under the following circumstances: (a) the business class fare does not cost more than the lowest available tourist/coach fare; (b) the travel is to western Europe and the business meeting is conducted within three hours of landing; (c) the travel is for a transoceanic intercontinental trip of more than eight hours, or (d) the traveler pays the difference.
Last month, I raised the issue of whether GMU’s conflict-of-interest committee exercised appropriate oversight over Shukla’s involvement with IGES. The Jacobson memo raises questions of who holds IGES accountable. Did anyone on the IGES board raise any questions of conflict-of-interest or double dipping?
Hundreds of university professors across Virginia receive federal funding for their research. How typical is Shukla of the way university professors handle research grants? Is it routine to set up autonomous institutes to administer the funds? Is it routine to engage in double dipping and setting up overrides of university travel policy?
Does anyone care? Where are the people who assure us of the integrity of the process for funding scientific research? I’m astonished at how little traction this story has gotten in the Virginia media or even the blogosphere.
Update: According to GMU’s “Outside Employment” policy, GMU employees “may engage in certain employment outside the university, provided that the employee has obtained prior written approval of his or her supervisor and the employee complies with all relevant University policies, including policies regarding conflicts of interest…” Employees must report salary and benefits “that may reasonably be anticipated to exceed $10,000 annually,” as Shukla did. They also must submit “regular and routine reports (monthly or quarterly) from such firm or entity identifying the number of hours and total payment made to the University employee.”
When I stated above that “it is unclear whether members of the conflict-of-interest committee knew that Shukla, in point of fact, received $343,000 in salary from IGES that year — plus substantial benefits,” I was unaware of the provisions in GMU’s Outside employment policy requiring employees to submit routine reports detailing hours and compensation. There is no reason to believe that Shukla failed to submit such reports, and no reason to question whether GMU’s conflict-of-interest committee was fully apprised of his significant additional compensation.