Saturday, February 04, 2012

Next up for Science in Congress: HR3433 - the Grant Reform and Transparency Act

Just got pointed to this by Mark Martin. There is a new bill making its way through congress - HR 3433 - the Grant Reform and New Transparency Act of 2011. It has a subtitle apparently of "To amend title 31, United States Code, to provide transparency and require certain standards in the award of Federal grants, and for other purposes."

The full text of the bill and other information is available here.

I personally don't know much about this bill but found some discussion of it here:
I have not formed an opinion of the act but thought I would share the information since it does not seem to be getting much attention but seems like it could have impact.  I note - one group that I respect deeply supports the act: the Sunlight Foundation which involves people like Ester Dyson and Lawrence Lessig.  Any opinions or insight on the bill would be welcome.

7 comments:

  1. It looks like some of the concern centers on this provision:
    “DISCLOSURE OF PEER REVIEWERS -- The name, title, and employer of each individual who served as a peer reviewer for the grant program concerned, during the six-month period preceding the award of the grant.”

    For NIH proposals, would this be any different from how things are now? You can already see who serves on each study section, and technically the entire study section peer reviews each proposal, right? So this provision looks like it's already being fulfilled.

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    1. Right Shaun. NSF doesnt have this yet. Looks like a good step for opening up review. A baby step, but a good one. If we truly want open review at journal level, then grants and tenure must be open too. Thanks for sharing Jonathan.

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  2. I'd like to see more analysis on it. At a quick glance, most of the provisions seem quite reasonable (e.g., clear explanations of the review and awarding process), and I think NIH and NSF are already compliant with them. The three things that are most likely to raise concerns seem to be:

    1. (Minor concern) A one-stop shop for all federal grants. Grants.gov was supposed to do this and it's been a bit of a disaster.

    2. Public dissemination of all peer reviewers. Off the top of my head, this doesn't particularly bother me, but a lot of people are pointing to this as an area of concern. I'd like to seem more pro/con arguments about it.

    3. Publication of all grant proposals. This is the one that bothers me the most. Given how few proposals are funded on the first round, it would likely give competitors a lot of insight into the approach someone is taking and potentially allow them to steal the better ideas for their own proposals. Even for funded grants, competitors would still know about planned approaches and other types of IP. I know that there is some sort of redaction system built-in, but it will likely either be used all the time, which makes the public publication pointless, or it will be very restrictive which doesn't really eliminate any of the problems. Two potential improvements could be (1) to only publish funded proposals, not all submissions (this seems a reasonable compromise); or (2) publish proposals *after* the grant has ended. One advantage of publishing the funded proposals, beyond transparency, is it would serve as a good resource for young investigators to get an idea of what better proposals look like.

    Hate to admit, but the fact that the entire bill was sponsored only by Republicans makes me wonder if there isn't some ulterior motive beyond transparency that we're not seeing (e.g., is it an aid to compiling John McCain's list of greatest grant boondoggles or whatever he calls it). On the surface, though, most of the bill seems reasonable to me.

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  3. Good point TINTMYLF. If the GRANT Act Would Require Publication of All Research Grant Proposals, it could be a major problem. Looks like Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) wanted a change that would have required that grant abstracts and not full grant information be published on the government-wide website. That of course was struck down by Republicans.

    **The Senate will need to change this.

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  4. Some useful comments from Heather Morrison can be found on Google+ about this

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  5. I'm curious as to how Mario Biagioli's work (which Jonathan has mentioned before, e.g. http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1868/1751) should inform our opinion on the danger of open proposals. From his work, it sounds like we're already under-estimating the danger of closed-review?

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