Washington Update

NIH and NSF Announce Strategies to Address Sexual Harassment

By: Yvette Seger
Thursday, September 20, 2018

This week, both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) released information regarding steps each will take to address sexual harassment in research environments that receive federal funding. Calls for federal funding agencies to take clearer actions against Principal Investigators (PIs) have mounted since the release of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine report, “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine,” in June.

NSF will address these concerns through a multi-pronged strategy, including a new term and condition to grant awards. A proposed term and condition draft was issued for public comment in February and garnered 192 comments from institutions, organizations, and individuals. The final version will be published in the Federal Register on September 21 (prepublication version is available here).

The new term is effective for all new awards or funding amendments to existing awards made after October 21, 2018. Institutions must inform NSF of any findings or determinations of sexual or other forms of harassment involving an NSF-funded PI or co-PI that demonstrates a violation of awardee policies or codes of conduct, statutes, regulations, or executive orders, or of any administrative actions taken by the awardee relating to such findings and determinations, within 10 business days.

This week, NIH issued two statements regarding the agency’s initiatives to combat sexual harassment. The first announced the launch of a new anti-sexual harassment website and an updated policy on harassment that will publish in the Federal Register. The second introduced a new chapter, “Preventing and Addressing Harassment and Inappropriate Conduct,” to be added to the NIH Policy Manual. This is an effort to provide straightforward guidance to NIH staff, including clear definitions, procedures, and responsibilities for all affected parties. The intent of Federal Register publication is to encourage organizations receiving NIH funds to adopt similarly rigorous policies.

The second NIH statement also announced that NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and NSF Director France Cordova, PhD, would use their roles as co-Chairs of the National Science and Technology Council to identify and implement uniform sexual harassment policies across government. In addition, Dr. Collins will establish a working group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director, comprising both extramural and intramural experts, to help guide NIH’s oversight role.