The National Science Board (NSB) issued a report, which concluded that excessive regulations are transforming scientists into bureaucrats. As a result, taxpayers' dollars are also being squandered, according to the NSB, the policymaking body of the National Science Foundation and advisor to Congress and the President.

“Regulation and oversight of research are needed to ensure accountability, transparency, and safety,” said Arthur Bienenstock, chair of the NSB task force that examined the issue. “But excessive and ineffective requirements take scientists away from the bench unnecessarily and divert taxpayer dollars from research to superfluous grant administration. This is a real problem, particularly in the current budget climate.”

Thousands of federally funded scientists responded to NSB's request to identify requirements they believe unnecessarily increase their administrative workload. The responses raised concerns related to financial management, grant proposal preparation, reporting, personnel management, and institutional review boards and animal care and use committees (IRBs and IACUCs).

“Investigators at many institutions suggested that a culture of overregulation has emerged around Federal research, which further increases their administrative workload. This overregulation was associated with a perceived increase in auditing practices and resulting institutional concerns about liability,” noted the report, which is entitled ‘Reducing Investigators' Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research.’ “Increased Federal reporting and compliance requirements, coupled with insufficient reimbursement of costs associated with federally funded research and a resulting decline in institutional administrative support at some universities, are reported to have added significantly to the faculty workload in tracking information, gathering administrative data, and preparing reports at the expense of performing research.”

“Escalating compliance requirements and inconsistent audit practices directly impact scientists and the time they have to perform research and train students and staff,” said Kelvin Droegemeier, NSB vice chairman and a member of the task force.

The report recommends limiting proposal requirements to those essential to evaluate merit; keeping reporting focused on outcomes; and automating payroll certification for effort reporting. The NSB further recommends an evaluation of animal research, conflict of interest, and safety and security requirements, and encourages universities to review their IRB and IACUC processes to achieve rapid approval of protocols.

The report cites a continued lack of consistency in requirements within and between federal agencies and recommends the creation of a permanent high-level, inter-agency, inter-sector committee. The committee would address the recommendations in the NSB and other reports; identify and prioritize, with stakeholder engagement, additional opportunities to streamline and harmonize regulations; and, help standardize the implementation of new requirements affecting investigators and institutions.

“Streamlining research regulations and making requirements more consistent across federal agencies is in the best interest of scientists and taxpayers,” said Bienenstock.

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