By: Brent Woo

The Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) convened a meeting earlier this week, to discuss the report, “Reducing Investigators’ Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research”, released in March 2014 by the National Science Board (NSB). The discussion was led by Alan Leshner, member of the NSB and Executive Director of the AAAS, and was followed by a question-and-answer session. LSA intern Brent Woo attended and summarized the meeting as follows.

Surveys found that principal investigators (PIs) of federally sponsored research projects spend, on average, 42 percent of their time on associated administrative tasks. Despite attempts at reform, that figure has not improved in the time from the initial survey in 2005 to the follow-up in 2012. The report notes that “a culture of over-regulation has emerged around Federal research” and proposes four recommendations: (1) Focus on the Science, (2) Eliminate or Modify Ineffective Regulations, (3) Harmonize and Streamline Requirements, and (4) Increase University Efficiency and Effectiveness.

Leshner then responded to questions from the audience. He noted that there are no available statistics linking time spent on administrative tasks to the failure to complete research projects. Leshner said that the Data Management Policy and Broader Impact sections of NSF proposals are not candidates for elimination, but the way that they are evaluated may be revised. He then urged performing agencies to be proactive and collaboratively harmonize requirements and not to wait for the federal government to act. He called for support of H.R. 5056 “Research and Development Efficiency Act”, which shares the goals of reducing researchers’ time spent on administrative tasks.

The report is of interest to academic linguists because the NSB has recognized the need for reform of these administrative requirements that result in “wasteful Federal spending and loss of valuable research time”. Linguists are often in charge of, or involved with, projects funded by NSF, the National Institutes of Health or the National Endowment for the Humanities, and this report directly addresses the time management of these ongoing and future projects. The LSA has reviewed this report and is monitoring the associated legislation through its partnerships with COSSA and CNSF.

The full text of the report is available on the NSF website.