Peer Review Under Attack in New House Bill

December 6, 2011

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform recently approved legislation that its sponsors say is aimed at creating greater transparency in the awarding of federal grants. Among other provisions, the Grant Reform and New Transparency Act of 2011 (H.R. 3433), called the “GRANT Act,” would:
  • Require all federal executive agencies to use merit-based procedures in awarding grants (with some exceptions);
  • Make public the selection procedures for each grant program, including how proposals are evaluated, ranked, and selected;
  • Before making an award, assess the adequacy of a grant applicant’s financial management system, internal controls, and reporting and compliance systems; and
  • Require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to create a single, comprehensive website for all federal grant opportunities.

The most troublesome section of the bill would require OMB to publicly post the name, title, and employer of all individuals who served as reviewers of the grant program for the six months preceding the award. The same information would be required of peer reviewers of the awarded grant.

The bill’s sponsors, who include the House Oversight Committee Chairman, Congressman Darryl Issa, and Congressman James Lankford, introduced the bill to create transparency in the federal grant process. Unfortunately, the legislators are unaware of the damage it would cause to scientific research.

The bill appears to be on a fast track through the House.  It was introduced on November 16th by Congressman Lankford and was marked up and voted out of the Oversight Committee the very next day.  Moreover, it is possible that the bill will be considered and passed on the floor before the House adjourns for the holidays, given the support of Congressman Issa.

While this does not necessarily mean the bill would make it through the Senate – a companion bill has not been introduced, and the Senate’s plate is full through the end of the session – passage of this bill in the House would set a dangerous precedent by permitting the politicization of the objective scientific peer review process and undermining the credibility of science more generally.

The APS Office of Public Affairs is actively engaged on this matter and will keep APS members apprised of developments related to this bill.

Policy news and viewpoints for the physics community. The analysis and opinions are those of the APS Office of Public Affairs and do not necessarily represent the entire Society.