Just when you thought it was safe to think about something other than the long-running contract negotiations between the University of California and its postdoctoral union comes word of the latest move by Chairman George Miller (D-CA) of the House Education and Labor Committee and his two committee colleagues, Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey (both also D-CA).
On Friday, the three Bay area Congressional representatives faxed a letter to Gene Dodaro, acting comptroller general of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Congress's investigative arm in matters concerning public funds. They ask the agency to look into "how universities, including the University of California, track how funds provided for laboratory research grants are spent." "Many...researchers," the letter blandly notes, "are paid by federal funds." UC has cited a purported inability to determine "the costs of proposals to increase the compensation" of postdocs as a reason for negotiating delays, the letter continues. The inexplicable difficulty of one of the world's great research institution to figure out how much it pays its own employees "raises serious questions" about UC's--and possibly other universities'--ability to track research funds in general, the letter goes on.
The mildly worded query appears to call UC's bluff on one of the tactics it has used to drag out the talks and avoid committing to the longevity-based pay raises the union has demanded. The letter pointedly and "respectfully" goes on to request that GAO look into how UC and other universities track "any 'facilities and administrative' overhead payments,...the terms and conditions governing these grants, [and] whether universities comply with these terms and conditions."
The not-very-veiled implication appears to be that UC might find it less unpleasant to settle with the postdocs than to tangle with the committee. With the next negotiating meeting scheduled for Wednesday, the next installment of the saga may be about to play out.