Flake introduces bill to bring transparency to federally supported research

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced legislation on Tuesday that would take steps to ensure that federal research dollars support transformative science and not unnecessary spending on low-priority initiatives.

In addition to the Federal Research Transparency and Accountability Act, Flake released a report titled “Twenty Questions: Government Studies That Will Leave You Scratching Your Head.”

The report raises questions about the need for taxpayer-funded studies tallying more than $35 million that have explored topics like why Jesus appears on toast, why drunk birds slur and why yawning is contagious.

“We ought to reevaluate a system that spends federal funds looking for America’s next top model over a cure for cancer,” Flake said. “When federal agencies don’t spend our limited research dollars wisely, they’re not just wasting money, they’re missing opportunities, and we can’t afford either.”

After the director of the National Institutes of Health stated during the 2014 Ebola outbreak that a vaccine may have been developed if there hadn’t been a 10-year decline in support for research, Flake, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, launched an investigation into how the NIH had spent federal research dollars.

“It’s time that Washington set clear goals for federally-funded research, improved transparency to ensure tax dollars are being prioritized to meet to those goals, and reduced wasteful and duplicative spending on lesser priorities,” Flake said.  

Under the Federal Research Transparency and Accountability Act, the Office of Management and Budget would be directed to establish a system to detect and prevent duplicative research.

Additionally, every agency would be required to make all unclassified research and development projects publicly available online in a searchable database that includes a summary of research, cost, name of contractors or grantees, and the title of any published studies that resulted.

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