Imagine you are a scientist whose research is funded by various Federal agencies, and imagine that not only does each of these agencies require an annual progress report—a reasonable requirement—but that each has its own complicated forms for doing so and its own system you must navigate in order to submit those forms.
As Federal grantees know, this is the unfortunate situation today, and it is one of the big reasons why a survey sponsored by the National Academies found that administrative burdens now consume fully 42 percent of people’s time at the Nation’s research institutions, draining precious resources that might otherwise be devoted to research.
Today the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is announcing a change that will help resolve this longstanding inefficiency: the release of a new, universal, standardized progress-reporting format (pdf) for academic scientists and other Federal grantees.
A new form may hardly seem a thing for the Federal bureaucracy to crow about. But this is a form of the future. Not only will it simplify the lives of scientists and their administrators, it will also help Federal agencies and overseers do a better job of grant management. And because the submitted information will be both uniformly organized and primarily digital, the new forms will allow program managers to compare interim scientific results more readily across complementary programs within and between agencies.
"I wish I had this kind of streamlined report form when I was running research projects supported by Federal agencies," said OSTP Director John Holdren, whose White House office spearheaded the effort. "Ensuring that there are common standards across agencies will ensure that researchers spend less time managing paperwork and forms, and more time producing research results across all science and technology fields sponsored by the Federal Government."
The new form, formal approval of which was completed this week with the signing of a memo by Dr. Holdren and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, includes standardized fields to be used by all Federal research agencies as well as customizable fields to accommodate special assessments that may be needed by some Federal agencies or programs. The memo calls upon agencies to craft implementation plans to ensure timely adoption of the format.
According to a “faculty burden” survey conducted by the Federal Demonstration Project, supported by the National Academies, research faculty consider “grant progress report submissions” to be their top administrative burden. (The other winners in order were: personnel hiring, project revenue management, equipment and supply purchases, Institutional Review Board protocol approvals and training, training personnel and students, and student evaluations.) The survey concluded that an estimated $97,000,000 in salary support is spent nationwide on research-related administrative duties.
Diane DiEuliis is Assistant Director for Life Sciences at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy