Study Requested on Regulatory Burdens Faced by Research Universities

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Publication date: 
23 October 2012

House Subcommittee on Research and Science Education  Chairman, Mo Brooks (R-AL), sent a letter on October 3, 2012 to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to request a review  of the current regulations and reporting requirements imposed on research  universities.  The issue of burdensome  reporting requirements and their effects on research university faculty was  discussed at the June 27 subcommittee hearing, “The Role of Research Universities in  Securing America’s Future Prosperity: Challenges and Expectations.”  The issue was again discussed at the August 1  subcommittee hearing, “The Relationship between Business and  Research Universities: Collaborations Fueling American Innovation and Job  Creation.”

The letter to the GAO explains:

“It is evident from these hearings, the report, and additional  conversations with the university research community that the current  regulatory environment may be limiting the growth of fundamental basic  scientific research.  In particular,  concerns were raised about three requirements: the effort reporting required  under Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-21; sub-recipient  monitoring required under OMB Circular A-133; and the paper record maintenance  required for contractors under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 4.703.”

The OMB Circular A-21 is a statement of government policy  establishing the rules governing the eligibility and circulation of costs in  support of sponsored research, development, and training.  OMB Circular A-133 is a Compliance Supplement  policy document used in auditing federal grant programs and the respective  grant recipients.  FAR 4.703 are  regulations relating to reporting requirements.

The questions which Brooks would like the GAO to answer  are:

  1. “What federal requirements, not limited to  legislative mandates, reporting requirements and regulations, create reporting  burdens for research universities?  Are  there any ineffective, duplicative, redundant, inappropriately applied, and/or  onerous regulations with which research universities currently must comply; and  if so, what are they?
  2. With regard to research universities, how do  the following requirements balance regulatory burden with accountability for  federal funds: OMB circular A-21; OMB circular A-133; and FAR 4.703?  Please be sure to include a review of the  approximate time spent or funds expended and the duplication of effort in  complying with the requirements as a part of your examination of the level of  burden.
  3. What are  the potential benefits and disadvantages of modifying requirements, including  those that experts and universities identified as most burdensome?” 


The National Academies Report, “Research  Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our  Nation’s Prosperity and Security,” includes the recommendation “reduce or eliminate regulations that  increase administrative costs, impede research productivity, and deflect  creative energy without substantially improving the research environment.”   The report was the subject of the June and  August subcommittee hearings and has been highlighted in follow-up discussions  on Capitol Hill and around Washington. 

At the June 27 hearing, there was bipartisan interest  from Members as to what the subcommittee could do to make changes and ease the  regulatory burdens.  Jeffery Seeman, Vice  President of Research and Chief Research Officer at Texas A&M University emphasized  that universities find it increasingly difficult to pay for federal research  compliance mandates noting that they are “extraordinarily  costly to our universities and they directly take dollars away from supporting  research itself.  They take away dollars  from working on cures for cancer.  They  take away dollars for finding energy solutions.   They create burdens on our faculty.”   Leslie Tolbert, Senior Vice President for Research at the University of  Arizona emphasized that regulations are extremely important but “the easier they are to follow, the clearer  they are, the less work it will take and the better job [the universities] will  do” to show accountability. 

Panelists offered many suggestions as to specific ways to  streamline federal regulations and Members requested that the research  university community reach out to them.   Brooks requested that the university community provide Congress with  more information about what changes to regulations would help alleviate the  complications they presented at the hearing. 

At the August 1 hearing, discussions of the regulatory  burdens continued.  Jilda Diehl Carton,  Vice President for Research and General Manager of Georgia Tech Research  Corporation at the Georgia Institute of Technology discussed how research  universities take seriously their responsibility to appropriately use tax  dollars.  She stated “universities don’t certainly object to regulation and to requirements  to report the results of our research or to report how funds are used for  research.  What I think the problem is is  where we have duplicative regulation or we have multiple reporting to different  agencies.”  She continued by offering  suggestions to eliminate duplicative reporting requirements, streamline the  reporting requirement process, and reduce the number of different formats the  professors currently are required to use to report their findings.  The issue that educational and research  productivity is diminished as a result of these duplicative regulations seemed  to resonate with Subcommittee Members. 

The Obama Administration has issued two Executive Orders  (EO) on this topic.  “Improving  Regulation and Regulatory Review” was issued by the President on January  18, 2011 and “Identifying  and Reducing Regulatory Burdens” was issued by the President on May 10,  2012.  The first EO calls for federal  agencies to retrospectively analyze existing “significant regulations” which  may be “outmoded, ineffective,  insufficient, or excessively burdensome, and to modify, streamline, expand, or  repeal them in accordance with what has been learned.”  The second EO sets priorities when implementing  retrospective reviews leading to modification of regulations and encourages  public participation in the review process. 

Republican and Democratic subcommittee Members  believe that efforts to look into these regulations are a worthwhile endeavor and  welcome further commentary from the research university community.  An article published in Issues in Science and Technology, which  further explains the need to reform the regulation of research universities,  was circulated in a few meetings on Capitol Hill.

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