Board of Regents Report Raises Ethics Concerns about GTRI

Photo by John Nakano

A May 25 report from the Board of Regents (BOR), released to the public on Thursday, has exposed flaws in the ethics culture and practices within the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), including inappropriate standards for the expenditure of morale funds.

In July 2017, over the concerns of the GTRI ethics and compliance officer (ECO), and without consulting Georgia Tech Human Resources, GTRI management chose to alter the reporting structure such that the ECO reported to the GTRI director of talent management, a move which the report labels as a “mistake.”

Previously, the GTRI ECO was a direct report to both the GTRI chief of staff as well as the Georgia Tech vice president for Legal Affairs and Risk Management, a change made in October 2014 in order to increase accountability after an internal audit had revealed “various policy and criminal violations that ultimately resulted in federal indictments of former GTRI employees,” the report said.

The BOR report revealed instances where ethical concerns produced were not elevated to administrative levels where they could be properly addressed, or where GTRI leadership chose to dismiss BOR policy after internal discussions.

In particular, GTRI management knowingly allowed BOR nepotism policy to be violated when Bo Rotolini was appointed deputy director of Finance, Operations, and Information Systems despite his wife’s employment within the division.

The report found that GTRI’s morale expenditures “do not meet the [USG Business Procedure Manual] Standards,” and criticized the use of morale funds for employee and family entertainment purposes.

The lax ethics culture led to practices in direct violation of BOR policy. In particular, the ECO, who according to BOR standards must screen questionable morale expenditures before any money is spent, was often only able to review transactions after they had occurred.

The BOR report offered several recommendations to improve the GTRI structure, including positioning the ECO outside of the GTRI management structure, addressing nepotism, and “thoroughly assess[ing] the ethical tone across Georgia Tech.”