しかし，申請書の作成，進捗状況や最終結果の報告に多大な時間を費やし，一部の不届き者のために無暗に厳しくなる規則に翻弄されているのは，日本の研究者だけではない．米国も同様の問題を抱えている．そのような状況において，米国の研究費助成組織であるNSF (National Science Foundation)から，「過度な規則が研究者から研究時間を奪い，税金を無駄にしている」という内容のレポートが出された．
National Science Board. 2014. Reducing Investigators’ Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation (NSB-14-18)
The past two decades have witnessed increasing recognition that the administrative workload placed on federally funded researchers at U.S. institutions is interfering with the conduct of science in a form and to an extent substantially out of proportion to the well-justified need to ensure accountability, transparency and safety. A 2005 Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP) survey of investigators found that principal investigators (PIs) of federally sponsored research projects spend, on average, 42 percent of their time on associated administrative tasks. Seven years later, and despite collective Federal reform efforts, a 2012 FDP survey found the average remained at 42 percent.
In December 2012, the National Science Board (NSB, Board) convened a Task Force on Administrative Burdens (Task Force). The Task Force issued a request for information (RFI) to identify which Federal agency and institutional requirements contribute most to PIs’ administrative workload and conducted a series of roundtable discussions with faculty and administrators. The most frequently reported areas associated with high administrative workload were financial management; the grant proposal process; progress and other outcome reporting; human subjects research and institutional review boards (IRBs); time and effort reporting; research involving animals and institutional animal care and use committees (IACUCs); and personnel management. Other areas frequently addressed were subcontracts, financial conflict-of-interest (COI), training, and laboratory safety and security.
Investigators and institutions acknowledge their responsibility to ensure transparency, accountability and safety in the conduct of federally funded research and, thus, that rules and regulations are necessary. However, they also mentioned an array of areas where those rules and regulations could be eliminated, streamlined, or harmonized across agencies to significantly reduce unnecessary regulatory burden. Further, there is a perception that we have lost focus on the science and introduced requirements that are not necessary for the assessment of merit and achievement, accountability, or the protection of research subjects. These requirements often come at considerable cost to investigators and institutions and yield a loss of valuable research time, particularly when not harmonized across Federal agencies. Investigators and institutions perceive a lack of consideration for the cost and benefit of new regulations, suggesting that the cost is often far greater than the benefit, and that there were no means to assess their effectiveness. Once implemented, regulations are not easily modified or eliminated.
Investigators at many institutions suggested that a culture of overregulation has emerged around Federal research, which further increases their administrative workload. This overregulation was associated with a perceived increase in auditing practices and resulting institutional concerns about liability. Increased Federal reporting and compliance requirements, coupled with insufficient reimbursement of costs associated with federally funded research and a resulting decline in institutional administrative support at some universities, are reported to have added significantly to the faculty workload in tracking information, gathering administrative data, and preparing reports at the expense of performing research.
Many of the issues raised have been highlighted in previous surveys and reports for more than a decade. Failure to address these issues has resulted in wasted Federal research dollars. At a time of fiscal challenges and with low funding rates at many Federal agencies, it is imperative that these issues are addressed so that researchers can refocus their efforts on scientific discovery and translation. The Board offers several key, overarching, recommendations and a series of policy actions aimed at modifying and streamlining those requirements that are essential to ensure the proper performance of federally funded research.
Several cross-cutting themes emerged from the RFI responses. Respondents indicated that growth in Federal requirements, lack of standardization across Federal agencies, increasing use of non-standard electronic systems, and a lack of sufficient or high-quality administrative support has resulted in PIs spending a greater proportion of their research time on administrative tasks. Regarding new regulations aimed at reducing fraud, waste, and abuse, many respondents expressed the view noted by FASEB survey respondents that regulations “punish all” for the “mistakes of a few” and suggested that these regulations fail to meet their intended goals. Respondents also suggested that unclear guidance and “aggressive” audits lead to greater institutional burden as institutions overcomply to avoid sanctions.
Respondents noted that postdocs, graduate students, and laboratory staff spend research time addressing institutional and funding agency requirements and that IRB/ IACUC, general training, and safety requirements can prevent students from conducting independent research or laboratory work generally. Most PIs and institutions suggested that new requirements are not improving how science is conducted or improving safety and that the current situation is untenable.
To reduce burdens, respondents recommended the harmonization of agency guidelines; standardization of agency forms, requirements, and methods of submission; and standard language and templates for forms and procedures. Similarly, respondents recommended reducing initial grant proposal requirements, progress reports, financial reports, and other requirements to the minimum needed.
The responses to the RFI provide valuable insight into the administrative workload that PIs and institutional administrators incur while applying for and executing Federal grants. With responses from faculty members, administrators, and institution officials, the collective insight not only substantiates information from previous work, but also provides new information and recommendations that can guide the Task Force as it seeks to address the administrative burden incurred by Federal grantees.
The National Science Foundation’s governing board calls for the easing of administrative requirements so that scientists can focus on their work.