Task Force on Administrative Burdens (AB)
"The Board shall render to the President and the Congress reports on specific, individual policy matters within the authority of the Foundation (or otherwise as requested by the Congress or the President) related to science and engineering and education in science and engineering, as the Board, the President, or the Congress determines the need for such reports.” --- 42 U.S.C. § 1863(j)(2)
The National Science Board (Board) will examine the administrative burden imposed on federally supported researchers at U.S. colleges, universities, and non-profit institutions and offer recommendations where appropriate on relieving the administrative workload.
Over the past decade, there has been a variety of reports suggesting that federal requirements are an increasing burden on academic researchers. A 2012 report by the National Research Council’s (NRC) Committee on Research Universities, Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation’s Prosperity and Security, found that “the problem of excessive regulatory burdens … puts a drag on the efficiency of all university research” --- potentially costing “billions of dollars over the next decade”. That report recommended that federal agencies “reduce or eliminate regulations that increase administrative costs, impede research productivity, and deflect creative energy without substantially improving the research environment”, and that they harmonize regulations and reporting requirements across agencies. In a 2006 survey of its members and a subsequent report, the Federal Demonstration Partnership, a cooperative initiative among federal agencies and institutional recipients of federal funds, found that faculty spent an average of 42 percent of their time for federally sponsored research projects on associated administrative tasks.
Congress, in response to the NRC report, has held multiple hearings on this topic and in October requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a review of current regulations and reporting requirements imposed on research universities. In the past two years, the Obama Administration issued two Executive Orders (EO) on this topic: Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review (EO 13563) and Identifying and Reducing Regulatory Burdens (EO 13610). These seek to reduce the “significant burdens and costs” associated with federal regulations while recognizing their “indispensable role in protecting public health, welfare, safety, and our environment.” As a consequence of these and other EOs, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has developed a number of proposed changes and reforms that relate to research grants. These were captured in the Feb. 2012 document Reform of Federal Policies Relating to Grants and Cooperative Agreements; Cost Principles and Administrative Requirements (Including Single Audit Act), which continues to be revised following a period of public comment.
The Board shares the concern that some administrative tasks may unnecessarily be consuming valuable time that our nation’s scientists, engineers, and educators could otherwise devote to the federally sponsored research that underpins our national security, prosperity, health, and welfare. Given the budget constraints at many of our nation’s research institutions, and broad federal interest in reform, the Board feels that a rigorous assessment of Federal Government mandates, and the related university requirements, that lead to administrative burdens for researchers is necessary and timely. IA
In an effort to improve the efficiency and productivity of the R&D enterprise, , the Task Force on Administrative Burdens will carry out the following initiatives and then bring policy recommendations to the full Board:
- Understand the evolution and extent of current regulatory and reporting requirements for federally funded research, in particular for the Nation’s six largest funding agencies;
- Identify and examine data on faculty administrative burden resulting from these requirements, including the pattern of changes in reported burden over time;
- Identify opportunities to reduce faculty administrative burden stemming from federally supported research requirements while maintaining regulatory policies that ensure accountability and that federally sponsored research continues to be conducted in an ethical and safe manner;
- Examine the contribution of university policies to research faculty administrative burden;
- Explore current efforts on the part of federal agencies to harmonize reporting, streamline duplicative requirements and eliminate or modify ineffective regulation; and,
- Develop policy recommendations for NSF engagement and recommend additional such efforts.
The Task Force will develop an inventory and assessment of recent and ongoing activities related to the scope of the study and an inventory of federal agency requirements that contribute to faculty administrative burdens. Based on examination of existing data, a survey or request for information may be developed by the Task Force, within appropriate federal regulations, and distributed to grantees. It is anticipated that the Task Force will produce a final report that summarizes its findings and presents recommendations for reducing faculty administrative burden within 12 months from the date of the formation of the Task Force. Printed copies of a final Board report will be widely distributed and available on the Board Web site for the general public, universities, Congress, various special interest groups, and the broader scientific community. In addition, the Task Force may issue a statement or comments indicating the Boards’ position on proposed reform of Federal research grants by the OMB. The Task Force expects to conclude its activities within 18 months from the date that formation of the Task Force is approved. The Board Office will serve as the focal point for coordination and implementation of all Task Force activities.