New GAO Report Details Federal Agency Actions to Address Sexual Harassment in STEM
New GAO Report Details Federal Agency Actions to Address Sexual Harassment in STEM

March 2020

On March 19, the Government Accountability Office issued a report finding that federal agencies funding STEM research are taking actions to address sexual harassment, but that additional actions are needed to ensure compliance with Title IX.

The GAO report examined how five agencies respond to Title IX complaints, establish and communicate an overall plan on agency efforts to prevent sexual harassment to university grantees, and collaborate on efforts to prevent sexual harassment at the universities they support. The Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are included in this analysis.

The findings include:

  • All of the agencies included in the GAO study conducted Title IX compliance reviews in FY 2015–19.
  • NSF and NASA have publicized promising practices for Title IX compliance with grantees, while the other agencies have identified promising practices but have not publicized them.
  • NSF is the only agency in the study that reported more than 2 Title IX complaints received in FY 2015–19 with 33 complaints filed.
  • While some agencies have established goals, none have created an overall plan to assess progress on and evaluate grantee sexual harassment prevention efforts.

The GAO provided 17 recommendations to agency to improve its efforts to communicate information to grantees and interagency efforts to share information. Two of the recommendations address NSF in its internal actions and in interagency work:

  • The Director of NSF should establish goals and an overall plan to assess all of the agency’s sexual harassment prevention efforts for its university grantees, including methods to regularly monitor and evaluate its sexual harassment prevention policies and communication mechanisms (e.g., Title IX or sex discrimination websites).
  • In consultation with DOE, HHS, NASA, NSF, and USDA, the assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice should direct the responsible Civil Rights Division sections to fully adopt two federal interagency leading practices—agree on each agency’s roles and responsibilities and develop mechanisms to monitor, evaluate, and report results of collaborative efforts, for its Quarterly Title IX STEM discussion group.

House Science, Space and Technology Committee chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and ranking member Frank Lucas (R-OK) requested the report as part of their oversight efforts. John Neumann, managing director of science, technology assessment, and analytics with the GAO, presented preliminary findings in front of the committee in June.

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