National Science Board Weighs In On Scientific Regulations

While the National Science Board (NSB) statement on the FIRST legislation (a bill that would authorize spending levels for the National Science Foundation, and National Institute of Standards and Technology) was notable for its rarity – the NSB rarely comments on legislation – it is not the only thing the Board has to say about how government holds accountable the researchers it funds.

One means of assuring this accountability is through regulations, and NSB released a report on the impact regulations have on scientific research.  The 98-page report focuses on reporting and compliance requirements, and makes several recommendations that the board expect would make the administrative burden easier on researchers and free up additional time for them to do their work.

It’s all to easy to reduce the thrust of the report to a variation on a common theme in America – the overrun of regulations interfering with all walks of life.  But a careful read of the report shows that it is a careful effort to try and pinpoint practices that could be adjusted, revised or eliminated with minimal impact on the ability of the government to effectively track how researchers spend federal money.

The recommendations are informed by a survey of over 3100 individuals, most are funded by the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health.  The report is part of a long-term effort (stretching back over two decades) to try and reduce the administrative burden on research institutions.  That it’s gone on as long as it has, with as little improvement as there appears to be, suggest that this report, absent agency and/or legislative interest beyond the NSB, will not move things much further.  And that’s too bad.  Not totally unexpected, but a shame nonetheless.

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