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Congresswoman Louise Slaughter

Representing the 25th District of New York

Congresswomen Applaud Study on Gender Discrimination in STEM Research, Call on Federal Agencies to Address Bias

December 14, 2015
Press Release
Deficiencies Found at NASA, NIH, DOD, DOE

With the release of a study today that found gender bias in federal STEM research, Congresswomen Louise Slaughter, Eddie Bernice Johnson, and Rosa DeLauro called on agencies to take immediate action to ensure gender equality in publically funded research. The year-long study, which the congresswomen requested in 2013 from the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO), found that federal agencies are not doing their part to identify and address possible gender bias in federal research projects in the STEM fields. The congresswomen called on four federal agencies to immediately address the shortcomings found by the study, including improving data collection and performing compliance reviews that are legally required under Title IX—the federal law that bans discrimination in publically funded research and education.

“The difficulties our country faces are too daunting for us to be using only half of our brain power. This GAO report shows us that we still have miles to go before we’re sure our best and brightest women scientists have equal opportunities to succeed,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter. “Right now, two agencies overseeing more than $17 billion in federal grants have not implemented legally required compliance reviews with the universities that use public money for research, while three other agencies fail to collect even the most basic demographic information needed to determine if bias exists in their grant-making processes. These are taxpayer dollars going to important research that will improve the lives of Americans – it’s vital that we know the best science is being funded by the best researchers, free of gender bias." 

“While some agencies have been more forward thinking than others in addressing different sources of potential gender bias in the awarding of federal research grants, the GAO study found that there is room for improvement at every agency,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson. “As Ranking Member of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, I will be closely following progress in implementing the GAO recommendations at those agencies under my committee's jurisdiction, and continuing to work with my colleagues to ensure that the remaining agencies also move forward on the recommendations. The GAO report recommendations are consistent with the requirements of H.R. 467, the STEM Opportunities Act. There is still time this Congress for our Committee to take up this legislation, and I hope we are able to do so."

“The GAO report shows that while women have made great strides in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, there is still more that needs to be done to ensure that women have the same opportunities as men,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro. “Collectively, the six agencies in the GAO report are responsible for more than 90% of the $25 billion in federal STEM grants awarded annually. These agencies must do more to guarantee that the recipients of federal grants are the nation’s brightest and most promising scientists, regardless of gender. With billions of dollars being spent on life-saving research, the stakes are far too high. Federal agencies should immediately implement the necessary systems to collect data on the recipients of grants and end gender bias.”

The GAO study found deficiencies at four federal agencies including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Energy (DOE), and NASA. The GAO also examined the research supported through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Agriculture’s (UDSA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and found these agencies were largely in compliance with federal standards.

The congresswomen called on all six of the federal agencies to implement the GAO’s recommendation in order to adhere to federal internal control standards for funding research. This would institute data collection procedures throughout the life cycle of a grant, from a scientist’s first contact with an agency through the award of successful grant applications and completion of the funded studies. Without this information, agencies cannot appropriately be held accountable for instituting a grant award process free of gender bias.

Furthermore, the study found that two of the three agencies responsible for $17.1 billion of federal STEM funding—NIH and DOD—fail to conduct legally required Title IX compliance reviews to ensure the universities they fund are addressing gender bias within their research programs. In response to these particular findings, the congresswomen wrote to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the NIH, and the Secretary of the Department of Defense, demanding that the agencies immediately follow the law and begin Title IX compliance reviews. They also requested that the Attorney General revive an interagency task force focused on Title IX gender discrimination issues to better coordinate efforts among the federal agencies involved in STEM grant-making. The congresswomen will be requesting briefings with DOE and NASA to discuss plans to improve their data collection systems to allow for a more complete study of possible gender discrimination at the agencies to be completed.

To read the congresswomen’s letter to the Secretary of HHS, click here, and for their letter to the Secretary of Defense, click here. For the congresswomen’s letter to the Attorney General, click here.