Scientists Voice Concerns About Grant Procedures
Three Harvard faculty members serving on a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) committee seeking improvement in relations between scientists and the government yesterday said there is need for improvement in the federal government's science grant allocation and accountability procedures.
Increases of paperwork required for grant applications and government accounting forms concern the three committee members, who believe scientists are overly burdened with non-essential grant regulations.
"The government's gotten more and more fussy." David E. Bell, chairman of population sciences at the School of Public Health, said. "This means an awful lot of detailed continuing reporting," Bell, the director of the Kennedy Administration's Bureau of the Budget, added.
Konrad E. Bloch, Higgins Professor of Biochemistry, and Alexander Leaf, Jackson Professor of Clinical Medicine, singled out the Office of Management and Budget Circular A-21, which requires a time sheet from every grantee, as an example of the conflict between government officials' perceived needs and the realities of scientific research.
"A-21 is a bureaucratic rule," Bloch said, adding. "We pay lip service to it because its totally unworkable."
Under the present system, scientists are required to report the number of hours spent working on research as opposed to time spent teaching and fulfilling other faculty duties.
But Leaf said, "It's impossible to do it in any honest way," explaining that research and teaching are interrelated and that few scientists spend large amounts of time doing only one or the other.
"There's a lack of appreciation of the intellectual process by which knowledge is created," he added.
Bell, Bloch and Leaf have been working on the NAS committee, funded by a consortium of government and private donors, appointed this summer to investigate the relationship between the federal government, scientists and research institutions. The committee of scientists, administrators and businessmen will probably report its findings within 12 to 18 months.
The committee is also assessing the success of the project grants, which give financial support to individual researchers based on the merits of particular proposals.
While Bloch and Bell are generally pleased with the allocation system. Leaf suggested that the grant process should give more constant support of scientists.
"It's hard to get people to make a committment to a life of science when every three years the spigot can be shut off and close down their research," Leaf said.
Other matters on the 23-member committee's agenda include alternative methods of calculating overhead, the amount of money the government gives a grantee's institution to cover electricity, water and other basic costs of maintaining a laboratory. Currently each faculty negotiates with the government the amount of additional money the grantee's institution will receive for overhead.