WASHINGTON – Members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee sent a letter to Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The letter reports on the Committee’s continued oversight of allegations of sexual misconduct within the scientific community to enable GAO to further explore and provide potential solutions to prevent these issues. On January 18, 2018, Committee Chairman Lamar Smith and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson sent a letter to GAO requesting a full study of sexual misconduct regarding federal grant making agencies’ compliance with relevant laws and policies. Since the request was made, several independent reports and findings of inappropriate behavior, sexual misconduct, and persistent issues within the scientific and academic communities have emerged. 

The Committee provided four recommendations to the GAO to consider:

  • Consistent and effective training across the concerned communities to reduce sexual misconduct.
  • Clear, accessible structures to make reporting sexual misconduct easier.
  • Reconsidering the academic model of having a single advisor responsible for overseeing a student or trainee. This dynamic, and the resulting fear of reprisal, discourages reporting of sexual misconduct.
  • Implementing and enforcing effective consequences, including the cancelation of federal grants.

The letter was issued at the same time as an announcement of new National Science Foundation (NSF) grant terms and conditions designed to ensure researchers who have engaged in sexual harassment or assault are not awarded federal funding.

Chairman Smith:

“No taxpayer dollars should be awarded to a researcher who engages in harassment and inappropriate behavior toward a colleague or a student under their charge. The Committee conducted a thorough investigation and made a series of recommendations to remedy this problem. NSF’s final rule is a significant step towards addressing sexual misconduct in the academic and scientific communities.”

Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Comstock:

“We must have strong policies in place to protect women in the sciences from sexual harassment to keep them in the STEM fields. And the Government Accountability Office must help Congress and the Federal government identify how to enforce these policies and weed out the predators that have eluded the system. STEM careers often are top paying jobs, and they are vital positions in keeping the United States competitive in the 21st economy. We are demanding action be taken to better protect and promote women in the workforce, to prevent sexual harassment, and to hold any predators accountable.”

The statistics suggest that sexual misconduct is pervasive among the scientific and academic communities. A review of a variety of studies at a 2016 workshop held by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine revealed that 40-70 percent of women had experienced sexual harassment during their careers or as students.

These statistics are especially troubling given the effect this behavior has on the reduction of women in STEM fields. At a Research and Technology Subcommittee hearing in February of this year, witnesses all testified that women are leaving STEM fields because of unprofessional behavior. 

These findings—along with the Committee’s investigation and research of sexual misconduct across federal agencies, federal grant recipients, scientific industries, and academic communities—demonstrate the need to reform how sexual misconduct is addressed.

The full text of the letter is available here.

Past letters regarding reports of a federal grant recipient’s sexual misconduct are available here, here, and here.