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Transfer of Stanford Case Auditor Urged

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Two prominent members of Congress have written letters pressing the Bush Administration to reassign the auditor who sparked the investigation into Stanford University’s research costs.

At the urging of Stanford officials, Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose) and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) have charged in letters to the Administration that auditor Paul Biddle is violating conflict-of-interest laws by continuing to monitor the university while pursuing a potentially lucrative “whistle-blower” lawsuit against the institution.

“I do not see how the conflict provisions can be read in any way that would tolerate the continued presence of Mr. Biddle,” Edwards wrote in a Dec. 16 letter to Undersecretary of the Navy J. Daniel Howard, who oversees Biddle’s work for the Office of Naval Research.

“No one is asking that Mr. Biddle be penalized, but simply that he should be reassigned,” Edwards wrote in the letter, his third in the matter.

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Biddle filed a lawsuit against the university in early September, asserting that Stanford overcharged taxpayers by more than $100 million in overhead costs for federally funded research. A controversial federal law allows government employees to file such suits and receive as much as 30% of any awards. Biddle has estimated that the overcharges could total $480 million, but that is hotly contested by the university.

Neither Biddle nor his attorney, Philip E. Benson, could be reached for comment.

Biddle’s allegations, first aired in 1990, led to several investigations by Congress and federal agencies into the use of tax money to pay in part for antiques, a yacht and parties at Stanford. The resulting publicity led to the announced resignation last summer of Stanford’s President Donald Kennedy.

Edwards and an aide to Bingaman acknowledged that the letters were sent after Stanford alerted their offices to the conflict allegations.

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Both congressmen attended Stanford, Edwards as an undergraduate and Bingaman as a law student. But each offered different reasons for their interest in the issue.

Edwards said he took up the issue because Stanford is a local university and because he is a member of the House subcommittee with authority over the whistle-blower law. Bingaman aide Patrick Von Bargen said his boss heads the Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over relations between the Defense Department and its contractors.

Stanford spokesman Larry Horton said the two lawmakers’ ties to the university “are a known factor, but we also talk to plenty of people who aren’t alums.”

“We decided to pursue any and all avenues to resolve this situation,” he said.

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