Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Reforming Regulation of Research Universities: Regulatory and Reporting Requirements Have Become Excessively Burdensome. A More Balanced Approach Is Needed

Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Reforming Regulation of Research Universities: Regulatory and Reporting Requirements Have Become Excessively Burdensome. A More Balanced Approach Is Needed

Article excerpt

In recent years, research universities and their faculty have seen a steady stream of new federal regulations and reporting requirements imposed on them. These new requirements, in combination with other factors, have exacerbated already significant institutional financial stress and diverted faculty time from research and education.

The oversight of research that uses human subjects or animals, involves select agents, chemicals, or other potentially dangerous substances, or involves export-controlled technologies is necessary and important. Universities and researchers take seriously their responsibilities to comply with requirements and account for their use of federal resources. However, increasing regulatory and reporting requirements are not only costly in monetary terms; they also reduce faculty productivity and result in inefficient use of federal research dollars.

Quantifying the monetary and productivity costs of regulations is often difficult. Whereas the cost of each individual regulation may not appear to be significant, the real problem is the gradual, ever-increasing growth or stacking of regulations.

The fiscal situation of our universities requires a reexamination of regulatory and reporting requirements to ensure a proper balance between accountability and risk management and to ensure that federal and institutional resources, as well as researchers' time and effort, are being used effectively and efficiently.

The current climate of fiscal austerity has sparked a renewed interest in reforming and streamlining government regulations to eliminate waste and improve productivity. In January, President Obama released Executive Order 13563 ("Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review"), along with two presidential memoranda focused on regulation. These documents require federal agencies to develop plans for regulatory review to ensure that regulations become more effective and less burdensome.

Congress is also interested in regulatory reform. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to nearly 200 companies, trade associations, and other organizations, requesting information on existing and proposed regulations that have negatively affected job growth, and soliciting suggestions on reforming regulations and the rule-making process. The committee received nearly 2,000 pages of responses.

Universities deserve attention

Higher education has largely been absent from recent governmental discussions of regulatory reform, despite evidence contained in a report prepared for the U.S. Commission on the Future of Higher Education that "there may already be more federal regulation of higher education than in most other industries!' As documented by Catholic University of America's Office of General Counsel, more than 200 federal statutes affect higher education, and the list keeps growing. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) recognized this when he asked the National Research Council's (NRC's) Committee on Research Universities, at their November 2010 meeting, to identify ways to improve the health of U.S. research universities that would not cost the federal government money, pointing specifically at the problem of overregulation.

In addition to research, regulatory issues extend into universities' educational activities. For example, the Government Accountability Office said in a 2010 report that the Department of Education underestimated the burdens placed on universities associated with mandatory reporting for the Integrated Postsecondary Education System. A 2010 survey of financial aid administrators by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators found that 85% of respondents at institutions with enrollments of more than 1,000 identified greater regulatory compliance workloads as a major cause of current resource shortages.

Increasing regulatory burdens are occurring during a period of severe financial pressure on universities. …

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