Ask at Your Own Risk

by SRA International on Thursday, December 15, 2016

Excerpt posted from The Chronicle of Higher Education article, "Ask at Your Own Risk" by Karen M. Markin.


Federal grant proposals are public information, so why do scientists get cranky when you seek a copy?

When you’re applying for your first federal grant, or seeking money from an agency you’ve never approached before, it is helpful to read copies of funded proposals. But the issue of how to obtain those copies tends to ignite more sparks than a short circuit in an electrical-engineering lab.

You can request a copy of the proposal from its author, or you can request a copy — under the Freedom of Information Act — from the federal agency that awarded the grant. The author is not obligated to provide a copy, but the government agency is.

Filing a FOIA request is a routine task for journalists and a common exercise in journalism courses. But in the scientific world, some view FOIA requests for grant proposals as antagonistic to the grantees, as an abuse of the law, and as something to be avoided at all costs. A FOIA request can even result in professional retaliation against the requester. Scientists who object to FOIA requests see them as bullying by researchers seeking an edge in an increasingly competitive grant environment. These critics say the law was never meant to force them to surrender their research plans to competitors, and they see such requests as a strong-arm legal tactic used to make up for weak research abilities. Meanwhile, other academics are not even aware that funded proposals are public documents, available on request.

I have successfully obtained copies of grant proposals both by FOIA request and by contacting the scientists. There are pros and cons to each approach, and you must decide for yourself how (and whether) to proceed.

Continue reading "Ask at Your Own Risk" on The Chronicle of Higher Education.


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