Request for Information on the American Research Environment

Federal Register, Volume 84 Issue 242 (Tuesday, December 17, 2019)
[Federal Register Volume 84, Number 242 (Tuesday, December 17, 2019)]
[Pages 68958-68960]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office []
[FR Doc No: 2019-27165]
Request for Information on the American Research Environment
AGENCY: Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
ACTION: Notice of Request for Information (RFI) on the American
research environment.
SUMMARY: On behalf of the National Science and Technology Council's
(NSTC's) Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE), the OSTP
requests input on actions that Federal agencies can take, working in
partnership with private industry, academic institutions, and non-
profit/philanthropic organizations, to maximize the quality and
effectiveness of the American research environment. Specific emphasis
is placed on ensuring that the research environment is welcoming to all
individuals and enables them to work safely, efficiently, ethically,
and with mutual respect, consistent with the values of free inquiry,
competition, openness, and fairness.
DATES: The comment period has been extended. Interested persons are
invited to submit comments on or before 11:59 p.m. ET on January 28,
ADDRESSES: Comments submitted in response to this notice may be
submitted online to: The NSTC Executive Director, Chloe Kontos,
[email protected]. Email submissions should be machine-readable [pdf,
word] and not copy-protected. Submissions should include ``RFI
Response: JCORE'' in the subject line of the message.
    Instructions: Response to this RFI is voluntary. Each individual or
institution is requested to submit only one response. Submission must
not exceed 10 pages in 12 point or larger font, with a page number
provided on each page. Responses should include the name of the
person(s) or organization(s) filing the comment. Comments containing
references, studies, research, and other empirical data that are not
widely published should include copies or electronic links of the
referenced materials.
    It is suggested that no business proprietary information,
copyrighted information, or personally identifiable information be
submitted in response to this RFI.
    In accordance with FAR 15.202(3), responses to this notice are not
offers and cannot be accepted by the Federal Government to form a
binding contract. Additionally, those submitting responses are solely
responsible for all expenses associated with response preparation.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For additional information, please
direct your questions to the NSTC Executive Director, Chloe Kontos,
[email protected].
working to address key areas that impact the U.S. research enterprise;
enabling a culture supportive of the values and ethical norms critical
to world-leading science and technology. This includes the need to
improve safety and inclusivity, integrity, and security of research
settings while balancing accountability and productivity.
    Specifically, JCORE is working to:
     Ensure rigor and integrity in research: This subcommittee
is identifying cross-agency principles, priorities, and actions to
enhance research integrity, rigor, reproducibility, and replicability.
This includes exploring how Federal government agencies and stakeholder
groups, including research institutions, publishers, researchers,
industry, non-profit and philanthropic organizations, and others, can
work collaboratively to support activities that facilitate research
rigor and integrity through efforts to address transparency,
incentives, communication, training and other areas.
     Coordinate administrative requirements for Federally-
funded research: This subcommittee is identifying and assessing
opportunities to coordinate agency policies and requirements related to
Federal grant processes and conflicts of interest disclosure.
Additionally, this subcommittee is also exploring how persistent
digital identifiers and researcher profile databases can be used to
reduce administrative work and track agency investments.
     Strengthen the security of America's S&T research
enterprise: This subcommittee is working to enhance risk assessment and
management, coordinate outreach and engagement across the research
enterprise, strengthen disclosure requirements and policies, enhance
oversight and vigilance, and work with organizations that perform
research to develop best practices that can be applied across all
sectors. The subcommittee is taking a risk-based approach to
strengthening the security of our research enterprise balanced with
maintaining appropriate levels of openness that underpins American
global leadership in science and technology.
     Foster safe, inclusive, and equitable research
environments: This subcommittee is convening the multi-sector research
community to identify challenges and opportunities, share best
practices, utilize case studies, and share lessons learned in order to
promote practices and cultures that build safe, inclusive, and
equitable research environments.
Research Rigor and Integrity
    The National Academies and others have in recent reports on rigor,
reproducibility and replicability \1\ and integrity,\2\ identified a
number of areas that Federal agencies and non-Federal stakeholders
should consider to foster rigorous research. The subcommittee on Rigor
and Integrity in Research is seeking perspectives on actions Federal
agencies can take, working in partnership with the broader research
community, to strengthen the rigor and integrity of research while
recognizing the need for discipline-specific flexibilities.
    \1\ National Academy of Sciences. Reproducibility and
Replicability in Science (2019).
    \2\ National Academy of Sciences. Fostering Integrity in
Research (2017).
    1. What actions can Federal agencies take to facilitate the
reproducibility, replicability, and quality of research? What
incentives currently exist to (1) conduct and report research so that
it can be reproduced, replicated, or generalized more readily, and (2)
reproduce and replicate or otherwise confirm or generalize publicly
reported research findings?
    2. How can Federal agencies best work with the academic community,
professional societies, and the private sector to enhance research
quality, reproducibility, and replicability? What are current
impediments and how can institutions, other stakeholders, and Federal
agencies collaboratively address them?
    3. How do we ensure that researchers, including students, are aware
of the ethical principles of integrity that are fundamental to
    4. What incentives can Federal agencies provide to encourage
reporting of null or negative research findings?
[[Page 68959]]
How can agencies best work with publishers to to facilitate reporting
of null or negative results and refutations, constraints on reporting
experimental methods, failure to fully report caveats and limitations
of published research, and other issues that compromise reproducibility
and replicability?
    5. How can the U.S. government best align its efforts to foster
research rigor, reproducibility, and replicability with those of
international partners?
Coordinating Administrative Requirements for Research
    Numerous reports and recommendations, including from the National
Academies,\3\ the National Science Board,\4\ and the Government
Accountability Office,\5\ have highlighted concerns about increasing
administrative work for Federally-funded researchers. Congress has
directed Federal agencies to reduce the administrative burden
associated with Federal awards through the 21st Century Cures Act (Pub.
L. 114-25) and the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (Pub. L.
114-329). Despite these efforts, preliminary reports from the Federal
Demonstration Partnership indicate that the time university faculty
spend administering Federal awards, rather than on research, has
continued to increase.
    \3\ National Academies report Optimizing the Nation's Investment
in Academic Research (2016).
    \4\ National Science Board report Reducing Investigators'
Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research (2014).
    \5\ Government Accountability Office report Federal Research
Grants: Opportunities Remain for Agencies to Streamline
Administrative Requirements (2016).
    Taking into consideration the current Federal landscape with
respect to individual Federal agency financial conflict of interest
(FCOI) regulations and policies, including definitions, disclosure or
reporting requirements and thresholds, training requirements, and
timing for disclosure, please comment on the following:
    1. What actions can the Federal government take to reduce
administrative work associated with FCOI requirements for researchers,
institutions, and Federal agency staff?
    2. How can Federal agencies best achieve the appropriate balance
between reporting and administrative requirements and the potential
risk of unreported or managed financial conflicts that could compromise
the research?
    3. From the perspective of institutions, describe the impact of the
2011 revisions to the Public Health Services FCOI regulations. What
were the implications with respect to the balance between burden and
risk? Did the revisions result in fewer significant unresolved or
unreported financial conflicts?
    4. Please comment on whether and how a streamlined, harmonized,
Federal-wide policy for FCOI would provide benefits with respect to
reducing administrative work and whether there would be anticipated
    5. How can agencies best reduce workload associated with submitting
and reviewing applications for Federal research funding? What
information is necessary to assess the merit of the proposed research,
and what information can be delayed until after the merit determination
is made (``just-in-time'')?
Research Security
    The open and internationally collaborative nature of the U.S.
science and technology research enterprise underpins America's
innovation, science and technology leadership, economic
competitiveness, and national security. However, over the past several
years, some nations have exhibited increasingly sophisticated efforts
to exploit, influence, our research activities and environments. Some
of these recent efforts have come through foreign government-sponsored
talent recruitment programs. Breaches of research ethics, both within
talent programs and more generally, include the failure to disclose
required information such as foreign funding, unapproved parallel
foreign laboratories (so-called shadow labs), affiliations and
appointments, and conflicting financial interests. Other inappropriate
behaviors include conducting undisclosed research for foreign
governments or companies on United States agency time or with United
States agency funding, diversion of intellectual property or other
legal rights, and breaches of contract and confidentiality in or
surreptitious gaming of the peer-review process.
    In light of these concerns, we seek public input on the following
    1. How can the U.S. Government work with organizations that perform
research to manage and mitigate the risk of misappropriation of
taxpayer or other funds through unethical behaviors in the research
enterprise? Please consider:
    a. Disclosure requirements and policies. Who within the research
enterprise should disclose financial as well as nonfinancial support
and affiliations (e.g., faculty, senior researchers, postdoctoral
researchers, students, visitors)? What information should be disclosed,
and to whom? What period of time should the disclosure cover? How
should the disclosures be validated especially since they are made
voluntarily? What are appropriate consequences for nondisclosure?
    b. Disclosure of sources of support for participants in the
research enterprise. What additional sources of support should be
disclosed, and should they include current or pending participation in
foreign government-sponsored talent recruitment programs?
    c. What information can the government provide to organizations
that perform research to help them assess risks to research security
and integrity?
    2. How can the U.S. government best partner across the research
enterprise to enhance research security? Please consider:
    a. Appropriate roles and responsibilities for government agencies,
institutions, and individuals;
    b. Discovery of and communication of information regarding
activities that threaten the security and integrity of the research
enterprise; and
    c. Establishment and operation of research security programs at
organizations that perform research.
    3. What other practices should organizations that perform research
adopt and follow to help protect the security and integrity of the
research enterprise? Please consider:
    a. Organization measures to protect emerging and potentially
critical early-stage research and technology.
    b. How can Federal agencies and research institutions measure and
balance the benefits and risks associated with international research
Safe and Inclusive Research Environments
    JCORE is focused on identifying actions that will ensure research
environments in America are free from harassment of any kind, and from
any conditions that encourage or tolerate harassment or other forms of
behavior that are inconsistent with the ethical norms of research. The
aim is to foster an American research enterprise, which epitomizes our
values and those of research itself, namely, where researchers feel
welcome and are encouraged to join, wish to remain, and subsequently
thrive. To achieve this, leaders must create a research environment
that welcomes all individuals, values their ideas, treats individuals
as equals, and promotes bold thinking, rigorous and civil debate, and
collegiality. With this focus in
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mind, we seek the public's input on the following questions:
    1. What policies and practices are most beneficial in fostering a
culture of safe and inclusive research environments? Where applicable,
please provide information on:
    a. Organizational leadership actions that create a culture of
    b. Best practices for preventing harassment from beginning;
    c. Best practices for prohibiting retaliation against those who
report harassment;
    d. Best practices for re-integrating those who have been accused of
harassment but found to be innocent;
    e. Whether your organization has a common code of ethics applicable
to researchers, and whether that code is highlighted and actively
promoted in training, research practice, etc;
    f. How institution-based procedures for reporting cases of sexual
harassment and non-sexual harassment (or toxic climate) differ, and if
there are aspects of one set of policies that would be beneficial for
broader inclusion.
    2. What barriers does your organization face in the recruitment and
retention of diverse researchers? Where applicable, please provide
information on:
    a. The setting to which it applies (i.e., academic, industry,
    b. Whether your organization has best practices or challenges
specific to recruitment and retention of global talent;
    c. Solutions your organization has used to successfully increase
recruitment or retention of diverse and/or international researchers;
    d. Best practices to promote bold thinking and enable collegiality
in debate.
    3. Are Federal agency policies on harassment complimentary or
conflicting with regard to state or organizational policies? Where
applicable, please provide information on:
    a. What aspects are in conflict, along with the associated agency
    b. What aspects are most protective and make policy reasonable to
    c. What processes have effectively streamlined the administrative
workload associated with implementation, compliance, or reporting.
    4. What metrics can the Federal government use to assess progress
in promoting safer and more inclusive research environments? Where
applicable, please provide information on:
    a. What methods your organization uses to assess workplace climate;
    b. What systems within your organization were developed to enforce
and/or report back to agencies;
    c. What metrics does your organization uses to assess effectiveness
of safe and inclusive practices;
    d. What actions does your organization take communicate climate
survey results, both within your organization and to external
Sean Bonyun,
Chief of Staff, Office of Science and Technology Policy.
[FR Doc. 2019-27165 Filed 12-16-19; 8:45 am]