The policy year in review

By all accounts, 2014 was an active year in science policy. While Congress had only a modest effect on science policy during the past year, federal agencies made important changes that will affect scientists from all disciplines. Here are some science-policy highlights from 2014.

National Institutes of Health

The NIH made significant policy changes in a variety of areas. Efforts to improve the reproducibility of preclinical research moved forward with important changes to data and methods reporting in research papers. The agency also issued several grants to improve diversity in the biomedical research workforce through university collaborations and mentoring networks. The NIH and individual institutes also addressed important issues such as workforce training, funding people instead of projects and the sex of research animals used in experiments, among many others.

Arguably the most notable change in NIH policy in 2014 was to allow unlimited grant application submissions. In 2009, the NIH instituted a policy that grant applications could be submitted only twice, cutting back from the three-submissions policy that had been in place for some time. However, earlier this year, the NIH reversed course and now allows unlimited submissions. If an application is rejected after the first submission, principal investigators are allowed to submit a response to the reviews during the second submission. However, a failed second submission will not prevent the PI from resubmitting the same grant application during a subsequent cycle. The results of this new policy will play out in 2015.

National Science Foundation

France Córdova became the director of the NSF this year, while James Olds took over at the Biological Sciences Directorate. However, the NSF story that dominated 2014 was about the Republicans on the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology committee continuing to press the agency over the release of confidential merit-review materials. The representatives accuse the agency of using scarce taxpayer dollars to fund frivolous science, and they want to review the confidential materials concerning the grant application reviews. Córdova has resisted releasing these materials, saying that doing so would damage the merit-review system. This debate does not appear to be losing any steam and will continue into 2015.

Congress

The midterm elections that resulted in Republicans taking control of the U.S. Senate dominated this year’s political headlines. But when it comes to science policy, we won’t see the effects of this until 2015. There was quite a bit of talk on the campaign trail about what the government should do with regard to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. However, it remains to be seen if Congress will take any action.
The most notable Congressional action this year with regard to science was taken by U.S. Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce committee. They launched the 21st Century Cures initiative, a bipartisan effort to pass legislation that removes bureaucratic roadblocks to discoveries of drugs and technologies. The committee held several roundtable events and hearings addressing various topics concerning basic research, drug development, clinical trials and data sharing. We expect 21st Century Cures legislation to be introduced at the beginning of 2015.

After such an eventful 2014, we expect nothing less in 2015!

Chris PickettChris Pickett (cpickett@asbmb.org) is a policy analyst at ASBMB.