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U.S. agencies could cut researchers’ administrative burdens

GAO calls for uniform information collection requirements, cutting data requests for applicants

by Andrea Widener
July 28, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 31

The federal government can go further to reduce administrative burdens on research universities and scientists, congressional investigators say.

Universities and researchers applying for or awarded federal grants must comply with a pile of requirements, from filing progress reports to preparing budgets. Federally funded principal investigators spend more than 40% of their time on average on administrative tasks, a national survey showed.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative arm, examined regulations from the White House Office of Management & Budget and the four top research funding agencies. GAO also talked with several universities and stakeholder organizations.

Most regulations were originally designed to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse and to ensure federally funded research is effective. However, most people in the research community say excessive regulation now presents a substantial burden on research universities and scientists.

Investigators found that the federal government has made some changes to reduce burdens, but more are still needed, GAO says in a report released on July 22.

Specifically, agencies do not have uniform information collection requirements, the report explains. They often ask for information from every grant applicant that is only needed from award recipients. And they mandate how information should be collected rather than giving flexibility to universities.

Changes in these areas “could help ensure agencies do not miss opportunities to reduce administrative workloads and costs,” the report concludes.

The GAO investigation is the most recent move to reduce administrative burdens related to research. A National Academy of Sciences panel released a two-part report on its recommendations. Several bills pending before Congress attempt to address the problem.


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