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Scientist or Bureaucrat?

If you are a federally funded scientist in the US, then you are probably doing too much paperwork, mostly to comply with government rules, but you knew that already. You didn’t get three or four degrees to spend your days this way, unless maybe you're a political scientist who studies bureaucracy. You will never guess who agrees that all that government-required pencil pushing, collating, copying, and cutting and pasting is turning you into a bureaucrat — the government.

The National Science Board says in a new report that excessive regulations and grant requirements are eating up scientists' time and wasting taxpayer money, and it is time to do something about it.

"This is a real problem, particularly in the current budget climate," says NSB Chair Arthur Bienenstock in a statement. Some regulation is needed to ensure compliance, transparency, and safety, he says, but excessive requirements "take scientists away from the bench unnecessarily and divert taxpayer dollars from research to superfluous grant administration."

"Escalating compliance requirements and inconsistent audit practices directly impact scientists and the time they have to perform research and train students and staff," adds NSB vice chairman Kelvin Droegemeier.

NSB created a task force to find out what could be done to help free up investigators to spend more time in their labs, and that group generated the report, "Reducing Investigators' Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research.'

The report recommends a set of reforms that fall under four broad themes: focusing on science, eliminating or modifying ineffective regulations, harmonizing or streamlining requirements, and increasing efficiency and effectiveness on the university's end.

Some of these proposals include limiting proposal requirements to only those that are essential for evaluating merit, keeping reporting focused on outcomes, automating payroll certification for effort reporting, and evaluating policies and requirements related to animal research, conflict of interest, safety, and security requirements.

The NSB task force also says an inter-agency committee should be set up that would address these recommendations and others, and would identify and prioritize other opportunities streamline and harmonize regulations.