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FYI Number 8: January 26, 2001

Guiding Principles Issued on Government-University Partnership

During his final month in office, President Clinton took a step toward strengthening the research partnership between the U.S. government and the nation's universities. On December 29, he issued an executive order that, for the first time, sets out the goals, principles, and responsibilities guiding the federal- university partnership in a consistent way across all federal departments and agencies. "More than any other nation in the world," Clinton said, "we rely on a partnership between our government and our public and private research universities to conduct research that improves our economy, health, and national security, while also training our future science and technology workforce. It is vitally important that this partnership be equitable and effective to sustain U.S. leadership across the frontiers of scientific knowledge."

In April 1999, Clinton called on his National Science and Technology Council to "develop a statement of principles that clearly articulates the roles, responsibilities, and expectations of each of the partners and establishes a framework for addressing future issues as they arise." The resulting document identifies the following four guiding principles and six operating principles that "shall provide the framework for the development and analysis of all future Federal policies, rules, and regulations for the Federal Government-University research partnership." In parentheses behind each principle are explanatory points quoted from a White House press release.


(1) Research is an investment in the future. (Government sponsorship of university research for training as well as research helps assure "the health, security, and quality of life of our citizens.")

(2) The integration of research and education is vital. ("The intellectual development and scientific contributions of students...are among the most important benefits of publicly-supported research.")

(3) Excellence is promoted when investments are guided by merit review. (A good merit review system... "can accommodate endeavors that are high-risk that have the potential for high pay-off.")

(4) Research must be conducted with integrity. ("The credibility of the collective enterprise relies on the integrity of each of its participants.")


(1) Agency cost-sharing policies and practices must be transparent. ("Agencies should be clear about their cost sharing policies and announce when and how cost sharing will figure in selection processes...")

(2) Partners should respect the merit review process. (" promoted when all parties adhere to merit review...and refrain from seeking Federal funds through non- merit-based means.")

(3) Agencies and universities should manage research in a cost- efficient manner. ("The goal...should be to make maximum resources available for the performance of research and education.")

(4) Accountability and accounting are not the same. ("The principal measure of accountability must be the research results and whether the work was consistent with the original scope of the proposed research. Equally important, but different, are sound financial accounting methods...")

(5) The benefits of simplicity in policies and practices should be weighed against the costs. ("[T]he goal is to maximize the impact of each research dollar spent. Therefore, one size doesn't necessarily fit all.")

(6) Change should be justified by need and the process made transparent. ("[C]hange in the government-university partnership should be made as transparent as possible. Modifications...should be kept as infrequent as possible but consistent with the need to respond to changing circumstances.")

The order calls for "each executive branch department or agency that supports research at universities [to] regularly review its existing policies and procedures to ensure that they meet the spirit and intent of the guiding and operating principles stated above." It also directs "OSTP, in conjunction with the National Science and Technology Council, [to] conduct a regular review of the Government-University research partnership and prepare a report on the status of the partnership. The OSTP should receive input from all departments or agencies that have a major impact on the Government-University partnership through their support of research and education, policy making, regulatory activities, and research administration. In addition, OSTP may seek the input of the National Science Board and the President's Committee of Advisors for Science and Technology, as well as other stakeholders, such as State and local governments, industry, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Federal Demonstration Partnership."

Finally, "This order does not create any enforceable rights against the United States, its agencies, its officers, or any person."

In related news on the presidential transition, President Clinton's science advisor and OSTP director Neal Lane has announced plans to return to Rice University this month to become University Professor in Rice's Department of Physics and Astronomy. He will also become a Senior Fellow at the James A. Baker Institute of Public Policy of Rice University. Lane was Provost of Rice and a physics professor there before becoming Director of NSF in 1993.

Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3094

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