GAO Study: Federal Agencies Split on Collecting Demographic Data for Recipients of Federal Research Grants

Apr 13, 2015
GAO Study: Federal Agencies Split on Collecting Demographic Data for Recipients of Federal Research Grants

(Washington, DC)  – Preliminary results from a new GAO study released today show that half of the federal agencies reviewed fail to collect demographic data for recipients of federal research grants that is necessary to determine whether gender discrimination is a factor in the distribution of federal research grants. The GAO study, requested by Congresswomen Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) shows that three of the six federal grant-making agencies reviewed that support research in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields—the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture—routinely collect demographic information about the individual researchers who apply for and receive federal grants. However, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energyand NASA do not routinely collect demographic information about researchers who submit grant proposals and receive awards.

All three congresswomen authored a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden asking them to collect and provide this data.

 “Given that collectively, research grants awarded to colleges and universities by your three agencies represented well over $3 billion in federal funds in 2014, it is important for us to know whether any gender or other bias might exist in the decision making processes involved in awarding these grants,” the lawmakers wrote. “We strongly urge you to begin collecting demographic data on your grant making as soon as practicable. It is essential that the grant-making process allocating billions of taxpayer dollars each year be fair and equitable to all involved.”

Federal lawmakers and President Obama have identified STEM education and research as a critical national priority in maintaining America's competitive advantage. Women now earn approximately 40% of all bachelor’s degrees and 35% of all doctorate degrees in STEM fields, but major variations persist across fields, with some women in some fields experiencing high attrition from undergraduate to graduate studies. The representation of women in STEM drops significantly again at the faculty level. Overall, women hold only 35% of all tenured and tenure-track positions and 17% of full professor positions in STEM fields in our nation’s universities and 4-year colleges. The representation of women is especially low at our nation’s top research universities. Even in the biological sciences, in which women now earn more than 50% of the doctorates and passed the 25% percent level 35 years ago, women make up only 25% of the full professors at the 100 most research intensive universities. In some fields they make up only 10% of these positions. Given the need for this nation to capitalize on all of its talent, and the particular importance of STEM fields to our nation’s competitiveness, any biases limiting the progress of women in these fields threaten our country’s position as the leader in innovation and technology.

To view the letter, click here.

To view the preliminary report, click here.