Eliminating Barriers-Congressional Interest in Diversity
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Eliminating Barriers-Congressional Interest in Diversity

Congress has a long-standing interest in promoting diversity within the biomedical workforce supported by NIH and other federal agencies. Appropriations language since the 1970s has frequently directed NIH funding toward diversity training programs and their evaluation. For example, in 1992, Congress approved a proposal by the NIH Director to assess all minority-targeted training support mechanisms. The study documented an overall pattern of minority under representation in the biomedical, behavioral, and clinical sciences and in NIH research and research training programs. See, Assessment of NIH Minority Research/Training Programs: Phase I. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 1993. Section 402(h) of the Public Health Service Act acknowledges the need for NIH to recruit underrepresented groups to the biomedical workforce, as well as to increase the number of women, racial and ethnic minorities, and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds in conducting and supporting biomedical research, training and other activities.


A Brief Chronology: Congressional Interest in Diversity

Public Law 114-329, American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2017. The first major bipartisan update to federal research and technology policy to originate in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in more than a decade. Title III, Section 305 states that the sense of the Congress is:

  1. it is critical to our Nation’s economic leadership and global competitiveness that the United States educate, train, and retain more scientists, engineers, and computer scientists;
  2. there is currently a disconnect between the availability of and growing demand for STEM-skilled workers;
  3. historically, underrepresented populations are the largest untapped STEM talent pools in the United States; and
  4. given the shifting demographic landscape, the United States should encourage full participation of individuals from underrepresented populations in STEM fields.

The legislation promotes a national goal of diversifying STEM fields, and creates a working group to study how to improve inclusion of historically underrepresented populations in STEM fields.

P.L. 114-255, 21st Century Cures Act of 2016. Section 2021 amends Part A of Title IV of the Public Health Service Act by adding Section 404M, which establishes the Next Generation of Researchers Initiative within the Office of the NIH Director. This initiative is intended to promote and provide opportunities for new researchers and earlier research independence. In particular, subsection (b) requires the Director to “Develop, modify, or prioritize policies, as needed, within the National Institutes of Health to promote opportunities for new researchers and earlier research independence, such as policies to increase opportunities for new researchers to receive funding, enhance training and mentorship programs for researchers, and enhance workforce diversity; and subsection (c) requires the Director to “Carry out other activities…as appropriate, to promote the development of the next generation of researchers and earlier research independence.”

Public Law 111-358, America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2010. Requires the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to establish a committee comprised of federal agencies to periodically update, and maintain an inventory of federally sponsored STEM education programs and activities, including documentation of the rates of participation of underrepresented minorities and persons in rural areas in such programs. OSTP established the Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education (CoSTEM). The National Institutes of Health is a member of CoSTEM.

Law 111-267, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010. Contains provisions to encourage women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Law 109-155, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2005. Section 619(b) of the Act requires the Administrator to “comply with title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.)” by conducting compliance reviews of at least 2 grantees annually.

Law 106-525, Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act of 2000. Congress finds a national need for minority scientists in biomedical, clinical, behavioral and health services research, and stated that increasing the number of underrepresented minorities and women in the scientific workforce would enable society to address its emerging workforce needs.

Law 103-43, the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 requires NIH to increase the number of women and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds (such as racial and ethnic minorities) engaged in biomedical and behavioral research by conducting and supporting research, research training, and other activities.

Health Service Act, 1992 (42 U.S.C. 288) and implementing regulations (42 CFR 66) (1992) requires the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, through the NIH to carry out research service awards in a manner that “will result in the recruitment of women, and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds (including racial and ethnic minorities), into fields of biomedical or behavioral research and in the provision of research training to women and such individuals.”

Law 96-516, National Science Foundation Authorization and Science and Technology Equal Opportunities Act of 1980. Established the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering within the National Science Foundation (NSF), to establish policies and activities to increase substantially the participation of nationally underrepresented populations (women, minorities, and disabled persons) in scientific, professional, and technical careers and fields.

Civil Rights Laws and Regulations

Congress has passed civil rights laws designed to remove barriers to participation in federally funded programs. These laws apply to NIH grantees because they are recipients of federal financial assistance. Faculty, senior leaders and principal investigators can contribute to diversifying the workforce by eliminating barriers to participation and providing equal access to the opportunity to participate in NIH supported research, programs, conferences and other activities. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations require it. Learn more about the laws, regulations and NIH policies.
Below are links to external resources explaining the civil rights statutes that require entities like NIH grantees to eliminate barriers to participation. These resources can help you think about potential barriers in your programs.

Many campuses have offices familiar with these laws, including admissions, student affairs, disability services, and civil rights compliance. The expertise and resources of these offices may be available to assist you with efforts to eliminate barriers to participation and to diversify your programs.