GAO Issues Reports on Rigor of Research Practices, Impact of Funding Interruptions and Research Competitiveness

September 8, 2022

The mission of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is to provide Congress, heads of executive agencies, and the public with timely, fact-based, non-partisan information that can be used to improve government and save taxpayers billions of dollars. Congressional committees or subcommittees request specific topics or require reports statutorily by public laws or committee reports. 

FABBS tracks GAO reports relevant to federal agencies funding behavioral and brain research. This past summer, GAO issued three reports of possible interest to FABBS members. 

Federal Actions Needed to Promote Stronger Research Practices (July 2022) 

This GAO report reviews policies and practices related to rigor and reproducibility at selected federal agencies (NIH, NSF, and NASA) funding scientific research. Recognizing ongoing efforts by federal agencies and the scientific community to strengthen methodology and increase transparency, the report provides two recommendations to the Directors of NIH and NSF:  

  1. To collect information on relevant indicators of rigor to assess the research projects that the agency funds and implement steps, as needed, to promote strong research practices in future work
  2. To take steps to collect information to determine whether current policies and requirements are adequate to achieve transparency by ensuring research results and data are findable, accessible, and usable, and implement programmatic or policy changes, if needed

Federal Budget: Selected Agencies and Programs Used Strategies to Manage Constraints of Continuing Resolutions (June 2022) 

Over the past 46 fiscal years, Congress and the President have enacted a regular appropriations bill in only three. Moreover, Congress often passes multiple CRs in any given year. Over the past 12 years (from fiscal years 2010 through 2022) Congress enacted 47 CRs of varying lengths ranging from 1 day to 176 days. 

Funding uncertainties for federal agencies are wildly inefficient, leading to administrative burdens and limit flexibility or hamper management on critical functions, such as hiring. For agencies investing in research, uncertainty requires staff to create spending plans for various CR scenarios and making adjustments to contracts to reflect CR – the process being neither effective nor efficient. 

This particular report focused on programs at three agencies – at the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Education’s Predominantly Black Institutions (PBI) grant initiatives and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Previous reports on Defense have made similar observations. FABBS actively advocates for strong funding for science budget in a regular appropriations timeline.  

Question for FABBS scientists: Have CRs ever interrupted your federal funding?   

NSF: Better Reporting Could Give More Visibility into Gains in States’ Research Competitiveness (August 2022) 

The National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) aims to expand the reach of federal research funding to states and jurisdictions typically underrepresented in research awards from NSF and other agencies. This GAO analysis indicated that EPSCoR effectively increases the federal research funding for participating entities. Program leads described ways in which the program helped increase research competitiveness, broaden participation or helped them hire or retain faculty.