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Hope for Cutting Red Tape in Academic Science?

The issue of overregulation is not new for universities, but what is new is that academic scientists seem to finally be making progress with government officials, a ScienceInsider article says.

Rachel Muenz

Rachel Muenz, managing editor for G2 Intelligence, can be reached at

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With the Republicans claiming a Senate majority in yesterday’s elections, what does that mean for the sciences?

ScienceInsider aims to answer that question with a series of articles started Nov. 4 called “After Election 2014.” Today’s story focused on the ill effects of increasing red tape in the world of university research and what the institutions are doing to combat this challenge.

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For example, Houghton’s Michigan Technological University is involved in a pilot program that has cut the number of forms researchers need to track their spending by 90 percent. So far, that program has reduced late filings and how long scientists spend on paperwork. “But none of the organs vital to maintaining accountability and transparency appear to have been harmed,” Michigan Tech told ScienceInsider.

Other universities across the United States are also focusing on the goal of cutting red tape, while also preventing conflicts of interest and protecting research animals and human patients.

“Universities and researchers must take seriously their responsibilities to account for their use of federal resources and to comply with federal requirements,” the Association of American Universities (AAU) said in a July 2014 statement on the Research and Development Efficiency Act. “However, the federal government also has a responsibility to periodically re-evaluate and assess whether the regulations it is imposing are achieving their intended objectives.”

The AAU went on to say that most regulations are more costly than they are worth, both in terms of the financial impact on institutions and the time taken away from important research.

“Too often federal requirements are ill-conceived, ineffective, and/or duplicative,” the association said. “When that is the case, the time researchers must devote to compliance with such requirements unnecessarily reduces the time they can devote to discovery and innovation and increases institutional compliance costs.”

The issue of overregulation is not new for universities, but what is new is that academic scientists seem to finally be making progress with government officials, the ScienceInsider article points out. Congress is looking into fixing the problems, having launched a number of studies to explore possible solutions. And, Representative Larry Bucshon (R–IN), chair of the research panel on the science committee for the U.S. House of Representatives was quoted by ScienceInsider as saying that he hopes to “alleviate some of the burden placed on our research universities so they can get back to the main goal of conducting basic science research.”

Others aren’t so optimistic, however, with some researchers telling ScienceInsider that, “It’s easy to vilify regulation in the abstract, but often hard to figure out the line between a burdensome rule and one that deters waste and abuse.”

For more on this topic, check out the ScienceInsider article here. The rest of the series so far can be found here.

- With files from ScienceInsider