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Posted by on Nov 1, 2013

House Committee Approves GRANT Act

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved the Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANT) Act, HR 3316, on Tuesday, October 29. The committee approved the bill on a party-line vote of 19-15. Before the vote, both sides acknowledged the need to refine the bill before the House of Representatives might consider the legislation.

The bill, introduced by Representative James Lankford (R-OK), would require greater transparency of the grants award process. Agencies would be required to publish the names and employers of peer reviewers, clearly identify award selection criteria, and make funding decisions based solely on merit. Unsuccessful applicants would have access to documents outlining the decision-making process. The legislation also mandates that agencies publish the grant applications, grant agreements, and closeout documents for all awards.

The chairman of the committee, Darrell Issa (R-CA), called the GRANT Act a “hallmark piece of legislation.”  Chairman Issa said there is a clear need for the legislation and that “identifying and reducing vulnerabilities in the awarding and administration of grant programs is critical to ensure that our government is being responsible as possible to the taxpayers.”

Democrats on the committee expressed reservations regarding two key provisions of the bill. The Committee’s Ranking Member, Elijah Cummings (D-MD), had concerns about the disclosure requirement of peer reviewers. Cummings urged the committee to protect the anonymity of the peer reviewers to prevent lobbying from applicants and potential employer reprisals.

Wisconsin Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan offered an amendment to allow agencies to use a unique identifier for each peer reviewer. The purpose of the amendment was to increase transparency of the peer review process, while protecting the privacy of individual reviewers. Lankford expressed some support for the amendment, but was adamant that the identities of the final decision-makers be publicly available. Pocan withdrew his amendment and told the committee that he would work with Lankford to find a solution.

Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) offered an amendment to require the publishing of only the grant abstract instead of the grant application. Connolly explained his amendment was on behalf of the academic community‘s concerns of “potential, inadvertent harm the GRANT Act could inflict on research and innovation systems.” According to Connolly, the publication of grant applications could result in the release of protected intellectual property.

The committee rejected the Connolly amendment on a 15-19 party-line vote. Connolly expressed his willingness to seek a bipartisan compromise to allow universities the ability to redact sensitive information.

On a voice vote, the committee approved an amendment from Representative Jackie Spier (D-CA). The GRANT Act would require agencies to conduct a pre-award review of the financial capabilities of applicants. Spier’s amendment modified the provision’s exemption requirements. Under the approved amendment, recipients that received more than $10 million in grant funding, and had successfully completed a grant project in the previous three years, would be exempt from the financial capabilities review process.  

The House Oversight committee previously approved the GRANT Act during the 112th Congress; however, the bill was never considered by the House of Representatives. It is not clear if the bill will fare any better during the 113th Congress.  Even if the House considered the bill, opposition from Democrats and the academic community would probably doom the bill in the Senate.

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