Go back

Disclosure of peer reviewers bill moves forward

Academic groups are expressing concern about legislation that would require public disclosure of the names of peer reviewers who vetted federal grant applications.

HR 3433, which was introduced by Rep. James Lankford, R-OK, on 17 November, has passed through the House of Representatives’ Oversight and Government Reform Committee and now heads to the full House for approval.

The legislation directs that information be made public on a federal grant website about the name, title, and employer of each individual who served as a peer reviewer for grant programmes during the six-month period preceding the award of the grant.

The measure, known as the “GRANT Act,” has not been scheduled for a vote on the House floor. It currently has no companion measure in the Senate.

Although the bill’s sponsors say they aim to make the federal grants process more transparent, the university research community says its requirements could harm US scientific research and the nation’s innovation system, especially the mandatory disclosure of information about peer reviewers.

University groups also suggest that some of the bill’s provisions duplicate existing regulations.

“Anonymity in the peer review process for reviewing scientific and other academic grant proposals has served science and our nation very well over the past several decades,” the presidents of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and the Council on Government Relations (COGR) wrote in a 28 November letter to Lankford and the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA.

The letter also warned that anonymity in the process permits greater candour in the evaluation of grant applications, thereby contributing to a higher quality of review than would otherwise occur if the names of peer reviewers related to a specific application were known.

Overall, they said the downsides of disclosure outweigh the potential benefits in this case, urging that the provision be eliminated.

When the oversight and government reform committee considered the bill on 17 November, ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings from Maryland earned approval for his amendment to strike the language on disclosure of peer reviewers. But Lankford later got an amendment passed that struck down the Cummings language, according to the American Institute of Physics.

“This legislation will bring transparency to the $50 billion annual discretionary and federal grant programs,” said Lankford in a statement issued after the bill passed his committee.

“During a time of massive budget deficits, members of both parties came together today to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent in a wise and accountable manner,” he added.