Women in STEM Research: Federal Agencies Differ in the Data They Collect on Grant Applicants

GAO-15-291R Published: Mar 17, 2015. Publicly Released: Apr 13, 2015.
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What GAO Found

Three of the six federal grant-making agencies we reviewed that support research in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields—the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture—routinely collect demographic information about the individual researchers who apply for and receive federal grants. Further, these agencies have data systems that could facilitate analysis of differences, if any, in grants made to women and men. The three agencies stated they use this demographic information for research and internal analysis of their applicant pool. The other three agencies in our review—the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and NASA—do not routinely collect demographic information about researchers who submit grant proposals and receive awards. These agencies or some of their components reported they were uncertain of the legal constraints around collecting these data and that their agencies had no internal purpose for such information.

Why GAO Did This Study                                                         

Since the enactment of Title IX in 1972—which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities receiving any federal financial assistance—women have made significant gains in many academic fields. Nevertheless, recent research shows that women continue to lag behind men in academic and professional advancement in STEM fields. In fiscal year 2014, colleges and universities around the country received nearly $25 billion in federal funding for research in these fields. GAO was asked to provide information on federal grant-making to women and men in STEM research. Specifically, this report focuses on the extent to which federal agencies collect data that could be used to analyze differences, if any, in federal grants to women and men in STEM fields.

For more information, contact Melissa Emrey-Arras at 617-788-0534 or emreyarrasm@gao.gov.

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