oversight

Sexual Harassment in STEM Research: Preliminary Observations on Policies for University Grantees and Information Sharing among Selected Agencies

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2019-06-12.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                            United States Government Accountability Office
                            Testimony
                            Before the Committee on Science,
                            Space, and Technology, House of
                            Representatives

                            SEXUAL HARASSMENT
For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. ET
Wednesday, June, 12, 2019

                            IN STEM RESEARCH
                            Preliminary Observations
                            on Policies for University
                            Grantees and Information
                            Sharing among Selected
                            Agencies
                            Statement of John Neumann, Managing Director,
                            Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics




GAO-19-583T
                                                June 12, 2019

                                                SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN STEM RESEARCH
                                                Preliminary Observations on Policies for University
                                                Grantees and Information Sharing among Selected
                                                Agencies
Highlights of GAO-19-583T, a testimony before
the Committee on Science, Space, and
Technology, House of Representatives




Why GAO Did This Study                          What GAO Found
In fiscal year 2017, U.S. universities          Based on preliminary information, the availability of agency staff and budget
were awarded over $15 billion in federal        varies across the five selected agencies for efforts to address sexual harassment
grant funding for STEM research.                complaints at universities that use federal funds for Science, Technology,
Federal agencies are required to                Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) research. While four of the five agencies
enforce Title IX—a law prohibiting              received three or fewer sexual harassment complaints from individuals at grantee
discrimination on the basis of sex in           universities from 2015 through 2019, changes to agency grantee policies or
education programs receiving federal            requirements could impact the number of complaints an agency receives and the
financial assistance—including at               amount of resources an agency needs to address them.
universities they fund. Sexual
harassment is not only degrading and            The five selected agencies have established and communicated sexual
illegal, it has a negative effect on the        harassment prevention policies to university grantees to varying degrees.
ability of women to engage in research          Agencies vary in how they have:
at the same level as men. GAO was
asked to review federal efforts to help             •   Provided detailed policies to grantees on sexual harassment. Three
prevent sexual harassment by STEM                       agencies—the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),
research grantees.                                      Health and Human Services (HHS) National Institutes of Health (NIH),
                                                        and the National Science Foundation (NSF)—have communicated
This testimony is based on ongoing                      relatively detailed policies on sexual harassment by issuing multiple
GAO work and provides preliminary                       forms of guidance, such as grantee policy manuals and best practices
observations on selected agencies: (1)                  documents. In contrast, the Department of Energy (DOE) and
availability of staff and budget to
                                                        Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and
address sexual harassment complaints
at universities they fund for STEM
                                                        Agriculture (NIFA) communicated through more general documents,
research; (2) efforts to establish and                  including policy statements that do not specifically address grantees.
communicate policies and procedures                 •   Modified grant terms and conditions. Two agencies are modifying the
for university grantees on preventing                   terms and conditions of grants to require grantees to report sexual
sexual harassment; and (3) steps taken                  harassment. NSF now requires grantees to increase transparency by
to promote information sharing and                      reporting findings of sexual harassment to NSF, and NASA plans to
collaboration among agencies to
                                                        implement the same requirement.
prevent sexual harassment at
universities they fund for STEM                     •   Evaluated effectiveness of grantee policies. To date, the five
research. GAO selected five federal                     agencies have not evaluated the effectiveness of their grantee policies
agencies that together funded                           and procedures to prevent sexual harassment, although two agencies
approximately 80 percent of STEM                        are in the process of planning such evaluations.
research from fiscal year 2015 through
2017, the latest data available. GAO            Based on our preliminary analysis and interviews, all five selected agencies have
reviewed these agencies’ relevant               taken some steps to promote information sharing and collaboration among
regulations and documentation. GAO              agencies on the prevention of sexual harassment. But they also noted challenges
also interviewed agency officials as part       to these efforts, such as the lack of information on sexual harassment cases.
of GAO's ongoing work.                          These challenges may increase the risk that universities or agencies are
                                                unknowingly funding researchers with a history of past sexual harassment
What GAO Recommends                             findings. The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy has taken
GAO is not making recommendations at            steps to create an interagency working group by establishing a joint committee in
this time but will consider making them,        May 2019 under the National Science and Technology Council with NIH, NSF,
as appropriate, as it finalizes its work.       DOE, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology Directors. The
                                                committee plans to address challenges in the research environment, including
                                                the lack of uniform federal sexual harassment policies.
View GAO-19-583T. For more information,
contact John Neumann at (202) 512-6888 or
neumannj@gao.gov.
                                                ______________________________________ United States Government Accountability Office
Letter
         Letter




         Chairwoman Johnson, Ranking Member Lucas, and Members of the
         Committee:

         I am pleased to be here to discuss our ongoing work on preventing sexual
         harassment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
         (STEM) research.

         Prominent members of the academic community who receive federal
         STEM grant funding have engaged in or been accused of sexual
         harassment, according to a number of recent media reports. Sexual
         harassment is not only degrading and illegal, studies show it has a
         negative effect on the ability of women to engage in research at the same
         level as men. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is the
         primary federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex,
         including sexual harassment, in education programs and activities
         receiving any federal financial assistance. 1 In fiscal year 2017, U.S.
         universities were awarded over $15 billion in federal grant funding for
         STEM research. 2 Federal agencies are responsible for enforcing Title IX
         compliance at the universities they fund. 3

         In 2015, we reported on six federal agencies’ grant making to women in
         STEM research, including Title IX compliance. 4 We found that the
         Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services (HHS) were not
         conducting required Title IX compliance reviews at universities they
         funded and recommended that the two agencies periodically do so. 5 We
         also found that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had no formal
         information-sharing process for federal agencies to exchange best
         1
          Pub. L. No. 92-318, tit. IX, § 901, 86 Stat. 235, 373, codified at 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688.
         Sexual harassment can qualify as discrimination under Title IX if, among other things, the
         harassment is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it can be said to
         deprive the victims of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided.” Davis
         v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629 (1999).
         2
          For ease of reporting, we use the term “universities” to refer to all institutions of higher
         education, and we also use the term “grantees” to refer to recipients of federal assistance,
         including university grantees.
         3
          20 U.S.C. § 1682.
         4
          GAO, Women in STEM Research: Better Data and Information Sharing Could Improve
         Oversight of Federal Grant-making and Title IX Compliance, GAO-16-14 (Washington,
         D.C.: Dec. 3, 2015).
         5
          A Title IX compliance review is an agency’s assessment of whether a grantee is
         complying with the law.




         Page 1                                   GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
practices on Title IX compliance activities, and we recommended that it
establish such a process. In 2016, DOJ established the STEM Title IX
working group, which meets quarterly with the six major STEM grant-
making federal agencies. 6

My statement today addresses preliminary observations from our ongoing
work and describes: (1) the availability of staff and budget at selected
federal agencies to address sexual harassment complaints at universities
they fund for STEM research, (2) efforts at these selected federal
agencies to establish and communicate policies and procedures for
university grantees on preventing sexual harassment, and (3) steps these
selected federal agencies have taken to promote information sharing and
collaboration among agencies to prevent sexual harassment at
universities they fund for STEM research.

For all three objectives, we selected five federal research grant-making
agencies—three agencies from cabinet-level departments and two
independent agencies—that together funded approximately 80 percent of
the federal government’s basic and applied extramural research in STEM
fields from fiscal year 2015 through 2017. 7 The five federal agencies are:

•   Department of Agriculture, including the National Institute of Food and
    Agriculture (USDA-NIFA);
•   Department of Energy (DOE);
•   National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), an
    independent agency;
•   National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of HHS; and
•   National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent agency.


6
 GAO-16-14. The DOJ Title IX STEM working group was formed in February 2016 to
facilitate information sharing across federal STEM grant-making agencies in response to
our December 2015 recommendation. The six major STEM grant-making federal agencies
are the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Health and Human Services’
National Institutes of Health, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National
Science Foundation, and Department of Agriculture including the National Institute of
Food and Agriculture.
7
 For purposes of this testimony, we define independent agencies as those listed on
USA.gov. https://www.usa.gov/independent-agencies (last visited May 30, 2019). In
addition, fiscal year 2017 data are the latest available for the federal government’s basic
and applied research funding in STEM fields.




Page 2                                   GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
             As part of our ongoing work, we reviewed relevant laws, regulations, and
             documentation (e.g. selected federal agencies’ policies and procedures
             on preventing sexual harassment, grant requirements as outlined in terms
             and conditions, and interagency meeting agendas). 8 We also reviewed
             prior GAO work and interviewed officials from selected federal agencies.
             Our preliminary observations will not be generalizable to all agencies that
             provide federal STEM grants. We shared the information in this statement
             with DOE, HHS, NASA, NSF, and USDA, and these agencies provided
             technical comments that we incorporated, as appropriate. We will
             complete our ongoing work that will include examining selected agencies’
             efforts to conduct Title IX compliance reviews and to address sexual
             harassment complaints. We plan to complete this work by the end of
             2019.

             We are conducting the work upon which this statement is based in
             accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
             Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain
             sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our
             findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that
             the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and
             conclusions based on our audit objectives.


             Selected agencies’ funding for university STEM research. The five
Background   federal agencies included in our preliminary analysis provide billions of
             dollars annually for university research in STEM fields, with NIH providing
             more than the other four agencies combined. Table 1 details the total
             amount of research funding provided to universities by each agency in
             fiscal year 2017.




             8
              For ease of reporting, we use the term “agencies,” even in cases where the agency is
             relying on a department-implemented policy or process. We are focusing on the core
             STEM fields—excluding social science and healthcare fields—and on university graduate,
             postgraduate and full-professor-level research in STEM fields.




             Page 3                                GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
Table 1: Fiscal Year 2017 Federal Obligations from Five Agencies for Select Areas
of STEM Basic Research Performed at Universities and Colleges (amount in dollars)
                                                                                                                            a
    Agency                                                                                                      Amount
    NIH                                                                                                       $8.3 billion
    NSF                                                                                                       $3.8 billon
    DOE                                                                                                     $647 million
    NASA                                                                                                    $580 million
    USDA                                                                                                    $289 million
       NIFA                                                                                                    $242 million
Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Federal Funds for Research
and Development, Fiscal Year 2017.
a
 These funding figures are drawn from the 2017 NSF Survey of Federal Funds for Research and
Development and therefore may differ from agency figures reported elsewhere. Fiscal year 2017
figures include only basic research obligations in fields that fall within the scope of our review:
computer sciences and mathematics, engineering, environmental sciences, life sciences, physical
sciences, and other sciences not elsewhere classified, such as multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary
projects that cannot be classified within one of these broad science fields. These may differ from total
agency research funding obligations for fiscal year 2017. For example, NSF’s total STEM research
obligations include funding for additional STEM fields such as psychology and social sciences.



Sexual harassment. As defined in the National Academies of Sciences,
Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) 2018 report, sexual harassment
encompasses three types of behavior: 9

•     Sexual coercion: Favorable treatment conditioned on sexual activity.
•     Unwanted sexual attention: Verbal or physical unwelcome sexual
      advances, which can include assault.
•     Gender harassment: Sexist hostility and crude behavior. 10

The most common form of sexual harassment is gender harassment,
which generally involves hostility, exclusion, or other discrimination based
on a person’s gender. The 2018 report found that sexual harassment in

9
 Sexual harassment is not a defined term in Title IX. In some circumstances sexual
harassment can qualify as discrimination under Title IX if, among other things, the
harassment is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it can be said to
deprive the victims of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided.” Davis
v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629 (1999).
10
 We adopt this definition for purposes of this testimony. National Academies of Sciences,
Engineering, and Medicine. Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and
Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (Washington, DC: The
National Academies Press, 2018).




Page 4                                                    GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
academia is significantly more common among female students in
engineering and medical majors than in non-STEM fields. According to
the report, at least five factors create the conditions under which sexual
harassment is likely to occur in STEM programs and departments in
academia:

•     Perceived tolerance for sexual harassment
•     Environments where men outnumber women and leadership is male
      dominated
•     Environments in which the power structure of an organization is
      hierarchical with strong dependencies on those at higher levels or in
      which people are geographically isolated
•     Increased focus on symbolic compliance with Title IX
•     Uninformed leadership on campus

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX of the
Education Amendments of 1972 is the primary federal law that addresses
sex discrimination in all federally funded grant programs at educational
institutions. 11 Under Title IX, federal agencies that award grants to
educational institutions have enforcement responsibilities to ensure such
institutions do not discriminate based on sex. 12 Enforcement
responsibilities include issuing regulations, conducting periodic
compliance reviews of funding recipients, and investigating timely written
complaints of sex discrimination against recipients. 13 DOJ and the
11
  In 2002, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was renamed the Patsy
Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. Pub. L. No. 107-255, 116 Stat. 1734
(2002). For purposes of this report, we refer to this Act as Title IX.
12
    20 U.S.C. § 1682.
13
  20 U.S.C. § 1682. Education and HHS’s Title IX regulations generally derive from the
Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) Title IX regulations published in
1975 (40 Fed. Reg. 24,137, June 4, 1975). In 1979 the Department of Education was
created and HEW was renamed the Department of Health and Human Services.
Education’s Title IX regulations are now codified at 34 C.F.R. Part 106 and HHS’s
regulations are codified at 45 C.F.R. Part 86. USDA published regulations in 1979 (44
Fed. Reg. 21,610, April 11, 1979, codified at 7 C.F.R. Part 15a) and DOE published
regulations in 1980 (45 Fed. Reg. 40,514, June 13, 1980, codified at 10 C.F.R. Part 1042).
A Title IX Final Common Rule was published in 2000 to implement regulations for 21
agencies, including NASA and NSF (65 Fed. Reg. 52,858, Aug. 30, 2000). In 2001, DOE
replaced its regulations with the provisions of the Common Rule (66 Fed. Reg. 4630, Jan.
18, 2001). Title IX regulations for all of the agencies in our review are substantially the
same. For purposes of this report any reference to a regulatory requirement is applicable
to all five agencies we reviewed.




Page 5                                  GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
Department of Education have other responsibilities for administering
Title IX. DOJ is designated by Executive Order No. 12250 to coordinate
Title IX compliance across federal agencies, including information
sharing. 14

Federal grant awards and grant life cycle. In general, federal agencies
administer grants through a common administrative life cycle: pre-award,
award, implementation, and closeout. During the pre-award stage, most
of the agencies we reviewed require grantees to submit an “assurance of
compliance” form as part of their grant application to attest compliance
with anti-discrimination laws, including Title IX. 15 For the award stage, the
federal agency awarding the grant enters into an agreement with
grantees stipulating the terms and conditions for the use of grant funds.
During the implementation stage, among other things, the federal agency
manages and oversees the grant, including any Title IX compliance
reviews. 16 A Title IX compliance review is an agency’s assessment of
whether a grantee is complying with the law. Federal agencies may
conduct these reviews onsite at an institution (grantee) or via a desk
audit. In the closeout stage, the awarding federal agency and grantee
bring the grant to its conclusion, once all the work associated with the
grant agreement is complete, the grant end date has arrived, or both.

Among the federal agencies we reviewed, different offices handle various
aspects of grant compliance. Generally, each agency’s civil rights or
diversity office conducts Title IX compliance reviews, develops policies
and procedures for grantees, and investigates allegations and complaints
involving university researchers supported by their agency’s federal
STEM grants. The office that awards grants generally creates and
modifies grant terms and conditions.




14
 Exec. Order No. 12250, 45 Fed. Reg. 72995 (Nov. 2, 1980).
15
  According to HHS and NIH officials, the department is responsible for requiring the
grantee to submit an assurance of compliance form to NIH.
16
  According to HHS and NIH officials, NIH does not oversee any Title IX compliance
reviews since this is the responsibility of HHS.




Page 6                                  GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
                       Our preliminary analysis indicates that the selected federal agencies’ staff
Resources to Address   and budget available to address sexual harassment complaints from
Sexual Harassment      individuals at grantee universities varies according to the duties and
                       funding for the primary agency offices responsible for addressing the
Complaints Vary        complaints, as well as with the number of complaints received from
                       grantees.

                       Duties and funding for offices responsible for addressing
                       complaints. Our preliminary analysis shows that all five agencies (DOE,
                       HHS, NASA, NSF, and USDA-NIFA) primarily address sexual
                       harassment complaints through their civil rights or diversity offices.
                       However, these offices are responsible for more than just addressing
                       complaints and preventing sexual harassment at grantee universities;
                       they also oversee a number of civil rights, diversity and inclusion efforts
                       for the entire agency. Moreover, most of these offices also address
                       internal employee sexual harassment complaints and other discrimination
                       issues. For example, HHS officials described how staff in their Office for
                       Civil Rights at headquarters and eight regional offices conduct
                       compliance reviews and investigate all complaints alleging sexual
                       harassment and other forms of discrimination against recipients of HHS
                       federal financial assistance, including recipients of NIH grants. USDA-
                       NIFA said their civil rights and diversity office staff are not always
                       available when sexual harassment issues arise because they have other
                       duties and also cover other discrimination issues. In addition, some
                       agencies noted challenges in ensuring adequate staffing levels. For
                       example, USDA-NIFA officials cited the need to fill vacant positions in
                       their civil rights office, and NSF officials described a need to find staff with
                       expertise in this complicated, specialized area. 17

                       All five agencies fund their civil rights and diversity offices separately from
                       their STEM research funding, and there is little relationship between the
                       two budgets. For more information on selected agencies’ civil rights and
                       17
                         NASA, NSF, and USDA-NIFA described actions they are planning to take to address
                       these staffing and workload challenges. For example, NASA is exploring the use of
                       detailees and increased interagency coordination to supplement its resources, in part
                       because the three full-time equivalents it has assigned to handle grantee sexual
                       harassment complaints spend no more than 30 percent of their time on grantee
                       compliance with civil rights (including sexual harassment), according to officials. USDA-
                       NIFA officials also described using detailees to help address staff vacancies, and while
                       they indicated that staffing is sufficient for what is reported and for proactive prevention,
                       they plan to hire staff to fill vacant positions by the end of calendar year 2019. NSF
                       officials said that they have hired two temporary fellows to help while they assess their
                       long-term needs.




                       Page 7                                    GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
diversity office staffing and budgets planned for fiscal year 2019, see
table 2.

Table 2: Selected Agencies’ Planned Staff and Budget for Civil Rights and Diversity
Offices, Fiscal Year 2019

    Agency/Name of Civil Rights or Diversity Office                           Number of Staff Budget (annual)
    DOE/Office of Economic Impact and Diversity                                                    37              $10 million
                                                    a
    (includes Office of Civil Rights and Diversity)
                                        b
    HHS/Office for Civil Rights                                                                  155               $38 million
                                                                                                                                  c
    NASA/ Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity                                                16               $4 million
                                                                                                                                  d
    NSF/Office of Diversity and Inclusion                                                          10            $1.5 million
    USDA/Office of Civil Rights                                                                  130               $28 million
Source: GAO analysis of agency budget information, fiscal year 2019.
a
 DOE does not provide details on staff or funding specifically for its Office of Civil Rights and Diversity
in its agency budget information. Instead, it provides staff and funding information for the Office of
Economic Impact and Diversity, which includes DOE’s Office of Civil Rights.
b
 HHS’s Office for Civil Rights addresses civil rights compliance involving entities that receive federal
financial assistance from any of HHS’s component agencies, including NIH.
c
 NASA’s fiscal year 2019 Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity program budget without staff
salaries is $1.4 million.
d
 NSF does not provide details on funding for its Office of Diversity and Inclusion in its agency budget
information, but NSF officials told us that their program budget estimate for fiscal year 2019 is $1.5
million, or $353,000 without staff salaries.



Number of complaints received. Our preliminary analysis of sexual
harassment complaint information indicates that four of the five selected
agencies received three or fewer complaints from individuals at grantee
universities from fiscal year 2015 through 2019. See table 3.

Table 3: Sexual Harassment Complaints Received by Selected Agencies, Fiscal
Years 2015-2019

                                   Independent Agencies                              Cabinet Agencies
                                    NASA                     NSF                 DOE                    HHS USDA-NIFA
    Number of                               3                  14                      2                    1                    0
               a
    Complaints
Source: GAO analysis of agency information and interviews with agency officials from the National Science Foundation (NSF), National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Energy, and Department of
Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
a
 In fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2019, DOE, NSF, and NASA received the same complaint alleging
violation of Title IX—discrimination on the basis of sex—against a university; NSF took the lead on
investigating this complaint, according to DOE and NASA officials.




Page 8                                                    GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
                      Officials from DOE told us that because they receive so few sexual
                      harassment complaints from individuals at grantee universities, they have
                      enough resources to address those that are reported to their civil rights or
                      diversity offices. In addition, officials from HHS told us that because they
                      receive so few complaints, their civil rights office has used other oversight
                      mechanisms, like Title IX compliance reviews, to examine whether sexual
                      harassment is occurring at universities receiving HHS funds, including
                      funds from NIH. However, as agencies continue to strengthen grantee
                      policies or requirements, it may affect the number of complaints an
                      agency receives from individuals at grantee universities, as well as the
                      amount of resources an agency needs to address them. For example,
                      NSF officials described how the number of sexual harassment complaints
                      they receive has increased since the agency implemented new grant
                      terms and conditions that require university grantees to report any sexual
                      harassment findings involving a Principal Investigator or co-Principal
                      Investigator for NSF-funded research. NSF officials also described an
                      increased number of questions and calls about how to report incidents,
                      requests for training and presentations, and meetings with program
                      officers, awardee representatives and other stakeholders, among other
                      items.


                      Based on our preliminary review, all five of the selected agencies have
Agencies Have         established and communicated their own sexual harassment prevention
Different Sexual      policies to grantees within the last 2 fiscal years, but agency
                      communication mechanisms and the content of these grantee policies
Harassment            vary.
Prevention Policies
                      Specifically, our preliminary analysis shows that NASA, NIH, and NSF
and Mechanisms for    communicate their policies on sexual harassment in multiple forms, such
Communicating Them    as grantee policy manuals, best practices documents, and online FAQs.
                      The result is that grantees receive a relatively high level of detail about
to Grantees           preventing sexual harassment and mechanisms for reporting complaints.
                      In contrast, Cabinet agencies DOE and USDA-NIFA provide fewer forms
                      of guidance, either through their website or agency director and
                      Secretary-level policy statements and documents, which focus more
                      generally on the broader category of sex discrimination or provide
                      different levels of information on sexual harassment prevention policies
                      for grantees. See table 4 for more information.




                      Page 9                            GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
Table 4: Mechanisms Used to Communicate Sexual Harassment Prevention Policies

                                                                                                Independent Agencies                                     Cabinet Agencies
                                                                                                                                                    a
                                                                                                   NSF                  NASA                  NIH                 DOE              USDA-NIFA
                                                                            b
Director or Secretary-Level Policy Statements
Agency officials’ announcements or policy statements on                                             ✓                     ✓                    ✓                   In
                                                                                                                                                                progress
                                                                                                                                                                                          ✓
preventing sexual harassment by grantees posted online
Agency Websites
Descriptions of agency policies and requirements, best
practices, FAQs, definitions, or complaint reporting
                                                                                                    ✓                     ✓                    ✓                    ✓                     —
procedures for grantees to address sexual harassment
Agency Documents
Guidance documents for grantees such as policy manuals or                                           ✓                     ✓                    ✓                    —                     —
best practices to address sexual harassment
Grant Terms and Conditions
Terms and conditions apply to all awards and dictate grantee                                        ✓                    In
                                                                                                                      progress
                                                                                                                                                —                   —                     —
requirements to report sexual harassment to the agency
                                                                c
Grantee Assurance of Compliance Form
A general statement of compliance with national laws and
policies prohibiting discrimination, including sex
                                                                                                    N/A                   ✓                    ✓                    ✓                     ✓
discrimination (Title IX)
Legend:
 Used
— Not used
N/A: Not applicable
In Progress: Agency plans to use
Source: GAO analysis of agency policy and procedure documents, websites, and interviews with agency officials from the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA), Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Energy, and Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
                                                                    a
                                                                        NIH is a component of HHS, a cabinet agency.
                                                                    b
                                                                     DOE and USDA officials told us they have Director or Secretary-level sexual harassment policy
                                                                    statements, but they either focus more broadly on sex discrimination or provide different levels of
                                                                    information. DOE’s Secretary-level anti-discrimination policy statement is from 2006 and does not
                                                                    specifically address sexual harassment, but DOE officials said they are in the process of drafting a
                                                                    new Secretarial sexual harassment policy statement that will apply to grantees. NIFA does not have a
                                                                    policy that addresses or provides details on preventing sexual harassment for grantees, while the
                                                                    USDA Secretary-level statement does.
                                                                    c
                                                                     Most of the selected agencies require grantees to submit an assurance of compliance form as part of
                                                                    their grant application. In general, these forms do not provide detailed definitions of sexual
                                                                    harassment. NSF does not use this form. Instead, NSF outlines Title IX requirements in its grant
                                                                    terms and conditions, and notes that when a grantee signs a proposal, they are providing the required
                                                                    compliance certification.



                                                                    Regarding the content of the policies, our preliminary analysis shows that
                                                                    DOE, NIH, NSF, and USDA-NIFA updated their definitions of behaviors or
                                                                    actions that qualify as sexual harassment in their grantee policies and
                                                                    procedures, and NASA is in the process of doing so. The definitions are
                                                                    more specific than previous definitions; for example, they include



                                                                    Page 10                                                  GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
descriptions of gender harassment, the most common form of sexual
harassment. 18 The increased specificity may make clear the behaviors or
actions grantees are expected to address in their efforts to prevent sexual
harassment. The agencies continue to develop and revise policies and
communication mechanisms for grantees.

Also, NSF and NASA have modified, or are taking steps to modify their
grant terms and conditions to strengthen requirements for university
grantees to report on findings of sexual harassment to the funding
agency. 19 Officials from both agencies told us these modifications will
help hold grantees accountable for reporting sexual harassment; the NSF
Director states on the agency’s website that these changes are “intended
to provide targeted, serious consequences for harassers” while also
providing “tools to make harassment stop without disturbing others’
careers and lives.” The requirement also supports the NASEM 2018
report recommendation for institutions to be transparent about reporting
sexual harassment findings, which is intended to foster a culture and
climate that does not tolerate sexual harassment at universities. 20
Officials from cabinet agencies DOE, NIH (a component of HHS), and
USDA-NIFA stated they would need to go through formal rulemaking
processes to alter their grant terms and conditions in a similar manner.

In addition, our preliminary analysis shows that two of the five selected
agencies are taking steps to evaluate the effectiveness of their sexual

18
  See Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic
Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press,
2018).
19
  NSF grant terms and conditions now require, for any new award or funding amendment
to an existing award, the grantee report findings of sexual harassment, other forms of
harassment, or sexual assault against the principle investigator (PI) or co-PI to NSF. See
83 Fed. Reg. 47940 (Sept. 21, 2018). NASA officials also told us they are planning to
issue new grant terms and conditions that will require grantees to inform the agency when
there has been a finding of harassment against a researcher receiving NASA financial
assistance or if that researcher has been placed on administrative leave pending
investigation. NASA officials said they anticipate releasing these new terms and conditions
for public comment in fiscal year 2019.
20
  According to the NASEM 2018 report, academic institutions should strive for greater
transparency in how they are handling reports of sexual harassment while balancing a
need for confidentiality. Specifically, they should issue annual reports that provide
information on (1) how many and what type of policy violations have been reported (both
informally and formally), (2) how many reports are currently under investigation, and (3)
how many have been adjudicated, along with general descriptions of any disciplinary
actions taken.




Page 11                                 GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
                      harassment prevention policies and procedures for grantees. NSF
                      officials told us that they are in the process of determining how best to
                      evaluate the effectiveness of the new sexual harassment reporting
                      requirements and how the requirements have affected grantees.
                      Similarly, DOE is in the process of comparing its policies and procedures
                      against other federal agencies’, according to officials. To date, the other
                      three agencies have not yet evaluated the effectiveness of their policies,
                      but officials at these agencies told us that they focus on ensuring
                      grantees comply with Title IX regulations as a way to measure the effect
                      of their policies. For example, NASA established a goal to promote
                      compliance and encourage best practices among grantees, and the
                      agency measures progress towards this goal through verifying grantee
                      compliance with Title IX. USDA-NIFA officials are also in the process of
                      creating a tool to provide a comprehensive blueprint for civil rights
                      compliance—including Title IX compliance—and are planning to
                      implement the tool in fiscal year 2020. We will continue to examine and
                      assess the selected agencies’ sexual harassment prevention policies for
                      university grantees and steps they are taking to evaluate them in our
                      ongoing work.


                      Based on our preliminary review, all five selected agencies have taken
Agencies Have Taken   some steps to promote information sharing and collaboration among
Some Steps to Share   agencies on Title IX compliance reviews through DOJ’s Title IX STEM
                      working group. According to officials, the group discusses strategies for
Information and       conducting joint Title IX compliance reviews to leverage limited agency
Collaborate           resources and share best practices. For example, DOE and NSF have
                      conducted three joint compliance reviews, and NASA and NSF told us
                      that they are in the process of conducting a joint review. 21 These joint
                      reviews can be helpful, as the selected agencies conduct a small number
                      of compliance reviews (two to four) annually relative to the number of
                      university grantees who must comply with Title IX.

                      Despite this collaboration, all five selected agencies reported challenges
                      in obtaining and sharing information. For example, all five selected
                      agencies told us they rarely discuss sexual harassment cases at DOJ’s
                      Title IX STEM working group meetings unless they are directly related to
                      an ongoing or planned compliance review. In addition, DOE, NASA, NIH,
                      21
                        A joint Title IX compliance review occurs when two agencies conduct a joint assessment
                      of whether a grantee is complying with the law. The grantee that is selected for the joint
                      compliance review receives funding from both agencies.




                      Page 12                                GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
and NSF stated they rarely learn about instances of sexual harassment
from voluntary reporting from universities or other federal agencies and
instead must rely on other sources, such as news reports. This situation
may change at NSF and NASA, which have taken steps to modify their
grant terms and conditions to require reporting of sexual harassment
findings by grantees. Challenges in obtaining and sharing information on
sexual harassment cases may increase the risk of a situation known as
“pass the harasser,” in which a researcher with substantiated findings of
sexual harassment obtains employment at another university or grants
from another funding agency without the university or funding agency
being aware of the researcher’s history.

Officials from all five selected agencies noted a willingness to participate
in an interagency working group to address the culture of sexual
harassment in STEM research that moves beyond conducting Title IX
compliance reviews. The White House’s Office of Science and
Technology Policy (OSTP) has taken steps to establish an interagency
working group. In May 2019, OSTP established a joint committee under
the National Science and Technology Council to address challenges in
the research environment. 22 OSTP, NIH, NSF, DOE, and the National
Institute of Standards and Technology Directors were selected as joint
committee chairs to engage with the academic and science community
for policymaking insight and to convene interagency efforts. According to
DOE officials, the committee will address several priorities, including the
development of policies and procedures across the federal government
regarding sexual harassment in the research environment. Three of the
five selected agencies (NSF, NASA, and DOE) stated OSTP would be the
appropriate entity to establish uniform sexual harassment policy
guidelines to help provide consistency across the federal government.
NSF and NASA officials suggested that DOJ or the Department of
Education would be the appropriate agencies to collaborate with OSTP
on the ongoing monitoring of sexual harassment policy guidelines.

All five selected agencies reported taking collaborative steps with
universities and federal agencies to address the culture and climate for
22
  The National Science and Technology Council was established by Executive Order on
November 23, 1993. Exec. Order No. 12881, 58 Fed. Reg. 62491 (Nov. 26, 1993). This
Cabinet-level Council is the principal means within the Executive Branch to coordinate
science and technology policy across the diverse entities that make up the Federal
research and development enterprise. The Office of Science and Technology Policy
Director serves as the chair of the Council and provides leadership across the National
Science and Technology Council.




Page 13                                GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
women in STEM. For example, in 2019, NIH established a working group
with university experts to collaborate with other federal agencies to
assess the current state of sexual harassment allegation investigation,
reporting, remediation, and disciplinary procedures at NIH-funded
organizations and advise on oversight, accountability, and reporting
measures for grantees, among other things. In addition, all five agencies
provided examples of collaborative efforts that would help address the
culture of sexual harassment in STEM research. For example, NASA
officials told us that it would be helpful to conduct joint meetings with
other university grantees across agencies to discuss sexual harassment
in science. Lastly, efforts to improve information sharing and collaboration
across agencies beyond conducting Title IX compliance reviews are
consistent with findings in the 2018 NASEM report, which states,
“adherence to legal requirements is necessary but not sufficient to drive
the change needed to address sexual harassment.” 23 We will continue to
examine and assess selected agencies’ Title IX reviews and efforts to
collaborate and share information in our ongoing work.

In closing, I note that we are continuing our ongoing work on this topic.
Sexual harassment is not only degrading to individual researchers, it
undermines the quality and fairness of our nation’s research enterprise. It
is therefore important that federal agencies ensure their grantees
effectively prevent and address sexual harassment in STEM research.
We look forward to continuing our work to determine whether additional
federal actions may be warranted to promote this objective.

Chairwoman Johnson, Ranking Member Lucas, and Members of the
Committee, this completes my prepared statement. I would be pleased to
respond to any questions that you may have at this time.




23
  The 2018 NASEM report notes that “academic institutions and federal agencies should
treat the legal obligations for addressing sexual harassment under Title IX law, as a floor,
not a ceiling, and work to move beyond basic legal compliance to promote sustainable,
holistic, evidence-based policies and practices to address sexual harassment and
promote a culture of civility and respect”. See National Academies of Sciences,
Engineering, and Medicine. Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and
Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (Washington, DC: The
National Academies Press, 2018).




Page 14                                  GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
                  If you or your staff have any questions about this testimony, please
GAO Contact and   contact John Neumann, Managing Director, Science, Technology
Staff             Assessment, and Analytics, at (202) 512-6888 or NeumannJ@gao.gov.
                  Contact points for our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public
Acknowledgments   Affairs may be found on the last page of this statement. Key contributors
                  to this testimony include Rob Marek (Assistant Director), Michelle St.
                  Pierre (Assistant Director), Kristy Kennedy (Analyst-In-Charge), Nora
                  Adkins, Caitlin Cusati, Nkenge Gibson, Amanda Postiglione, Janay Sam,
                  and Ben Shouse.




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                  Page 15                         GAO-19-583T Sexual Harassment in STEM Research
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