Less Paperwork, More Research: Improving Federal Grant Policies

As home to some of the Nation’s best research teams and laboratories, colleges and universities are critical players in the Obama Administration’s strategy for boosting domestic innovation and global competitiveness through cutting-edge research as well as through their role in training the American workforce of tomorrow. But achieving scientific and technological advancement is difficult when university administrators and faculty members are bogged down with bureaucratic responsibilities rather than focusing on the grand challenges ahead—or when research institute budgets are squandered on wasteful compliance with outdated or unjustified Federal requirements.

The Obama Administration recognizes the importance of enhancing the effectiveness of Federal investments in research while maintaining responsible stewardship of Federal grant dollars. Guided by these twin imperatives, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OSTP, and Federal grant-making agencies have teamed up to carry out a  comprehensive review of grant policies, with an eye to identifying reforms that can reduce administrative and compliance burdens without compromising stewardship.  As part of this effort over the past year, OMB and OSTP have reached out to university officials, researchers, and other stakeholders with the goal of examining the relevant OMB guidance documents (“circulars”) and proposing revised grant-making and grant oversight guidance. 

Building on this effort, OMB last October created the Council on Financial Assistance Reform, charged with identifying potential improvements to grant administration policies and processes.  The Council recently summarized the insights derived from the processes noted above and worked with others at OMB and OSTP to craft an Advance Notice of Proposed Guidance posted on February 28th in the Federal Register. The Notice describes a number of proposed changes to single audit and cost principles for grants and cooperative agreements, and provides an opportunity for public comment through March 29, 2012.

This is a timely opportunity to bring meaningful change to a system that many in the research community have criticized as being in need of reform. OSTP encourages interested parties from the university and research communities to view and comment on the Notice.

Kelsey Cook is a Senior Policy Analyst at OSTP

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