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Letter to House Leadership Seeks Changes in “Troubling Provisions” of GRANT Act

Richard M. Jones
Number 5 - January 9, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. David Price (D-NC) have sent a Dear Colleague to other Members of the House asking them to sign a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) regarding H.R. 3433, the Grant Reform and New Transparency Act of 2011.  The letter asks that “troubling provisions be addressed before the House acts on this bill.”

The GRANT Act was approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in mid-November.  In addition to a provision requiring the disclosure of peer reviewers, the 21-page bill also requires federal agencies to post on a website “a copy of any proposal, application, or plan submitted for the awarded grant, including any amendment to the proposal, application, or plan (whether made before or after the award of the grant).” (See Section 7404 (d) “Grant Award Information” (B) of the bill.

On December 12, Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform sent a letter outlining their concerns to Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.  Although H.R. 3433 was not referred to the Committee, Cummings and Connolly wrote to convey their concerns about the bill.  They focused on the requirement for the online posting of grant applications, which, they charged, “could endanger American intellectual property” and that “would create an immense amount of paperwork for agencies and universities.”  They cited one estimate that the National Science Foundation would be required to post in excess of 150,000 pages of documents. 

The new letter authored by Holt and Price highlights the online posting of grant proposals and the disclosure of peer reviewers.  “We ask that these troubling provisions be addressed before the House acts on this bill,” the letter to Boehner and Pelosi states.  Price and Holt are asking other House Members to sign this letter.

The deadline for signatories on this letter is this Friday, January 13.  Members of Congress receive many “Dear Colleague” letters every day.  Members are far more likely to respond to such a letter if contacted by a constituent.  The U.S. Capitol Switchboard telephone number is 202-224-3121.  Members can also be contacted through email, although they received hundreds of such messages every week.

The text of the Holt - Price letter to Speaker Boehner and Democratic Leader Pelosi (with copies to others in the House leadership) regarding H.R. 3433, the GRANT Act, follows:

Dear Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi,

We are writing to express our serious concerns about the Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANT) Act of 2011 (H.R. 3433).  Several provisions in this bill pose significant threats to our nation’s scientific research system and will stifle innovation and economic growth.  We ask that these troubling provisions be addressed before the House acts on this bill.

Scientific research not only creates jobs directly for those involved, but does so indirectly for many others through innovations that lead to new technologies, new industries and new companies.  In fact, more than half of U.S. economic growth since World War II has been attributed to technological innovation.  Such groundbreaking research has created vaccines, lasers, the MRI, Global Positioning Systems, the Internet, and a host of other advances that have grown our economy, improved our health, and made our nation stronger and more secure. 

The GRANT Act poses a significant threat to the research and innovation system that produced these economic drivers because it includes provisions that undermine the peer review process and attack intellectual property rights.  The most troubling provision in the GRANT Act is the requirement that grant proposals be published in full on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) website.  Grant proposals typically contain propriety intellectual information related to the applicant’s hypotheses, novel experimental methods, and preliminary research findings.  Making these ideas and data publicly available to everyone via the OMB website would undermine the applicant and their institution’s right to their intellectual property. 

A second disconcerting provision in the GRANT Act would require the public disclosure of peer reviews.  Anonymity of peer review is the foundation of the modern scientific method.  The prospect of negative career repercussions due to the public release of the name and contact information for peer reviewers and panelists would undermine the entire peer review process, hinder the ability of scientists to evaluate the credibility of research findings, and increase the likelihood that limited research budgets at federal agencies would be poorly spent.  Proper peer review is critical for fiscal responsibility and anonymity is foundational to the review process.

In its current form, the GRANT Act poses a significant threat to the research and innovation system of the United States.  Increased accountability and transparency are valuable goals which can be achieved without sacrificing intellectual property rights and the peer review process.  We urge you to remove the damaging provisions before further consideration of the GRANT Act by the House of Representatives.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

 

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095