Friday, August 22, 2014
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences The National Academies
National Academy of Sciences National Academy of Engineering Institute of Medicine National Research Council
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DEPS -- Frequently Asked Questions

What do all these acronyms mean?

The National Academies are comprised of four distinguished organizations - the National Research Council (NRC), the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The National Academy of Sciences were chartered by Congress in 1863 as a private, nonprofit, non-governmental organization set up to advise the government and the nation on scientific and technological matters.

Who do the National Academies work for; where does funding come from?

Most of the studies are carried out at the request of government agencies or Congress, some are initiated internally; and a few are proposed by other external sources. About 85 percent of funding comes from the federal government through contracts and grants from agencies and 15 percent from state governments, private foundations, industrial organizations, and funds provided by the Academies member organizations. All funds, regardless of their source, are accepted by the academies with very stringent conditions to ensure that the acceptance of any funds does not influence the objectivity, scope, method of study, or membership of a study group.

How do the National Academies provide advice?

The National academies provide a unique public service by bringing together experts in all areas of science and technology to address issues of national importance. The most common form of advice is a written report that reflects the consensus of a committee appointed by the Academies to review research on a particular topic. The Academies also convenes workshops and symposia that engage large audiences in discussions, produces proceedings from conferences and workshops and white papers on policy issues of special interest.

Are you a government agency?

The National Academy of Sciences was chartered by Congress in 1863 as a private, nonprofit, non-governmental organization set up to advise the government and the nation on scientific and technological matters. The four institutions that comprise the National Academies are private, non-governmental organizations, and we do not receive direct federal appropriations for our work. Many of our studies are funded by government agencies, but we also receive funding from private foundations.

Do the National Academies perform or fund research?

The Academies have no research laboratories. Study committees generally evaluate and compile research done by others rather than generating original data.

Are Academies activities covered by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA)?

Some are covered by FACA. Section 15 of the FACA was written specifically to apply to committees of the National Academies that provide advice to the federal government, but the law assures our continuing independence.

Are your meetings open to the public?

All meetings are open to the public, unless otherwise stated, such as when a committee is deliberating over final conclusions and recommendations. Whenever the committee is gathering information (hearing from anyone who is not a committee member of employee, official, or agent of the Academies) meetings are open. Meetings are closed when committees are deliberating (discussing the content, findings, or recommendations of a report) or when the bias discussion is taking place. Deliberative portions of meetings are closed to allow the discussions and consensus process to proceed frankly and without public posturing.

What is the role of study committees?

Study committees are deliberating and writing bodies for National Academies’ reports. Most committees are consensus committees, meaning the process is designed to reach consensus on the evidence base and its implications. Where the published data are insufficient to support a conclusion, the committee may use its collective knowledge to argue for conclusions. More than 6,000 volunteers serve on National Academies committees each year; all serve unpaid.

Who sits on your committees?

Committees are formed by identifying the expertise and perspectives necessary to address the study topic, soliciting and receiving nominations for candidates from a number of sources, presenting proposed slates and alternatives to National Academies’ leadership, and formally requesting appointment from the National Research Council chairman. A process of seeking to identify biases and potential conflicts of interest takes place and may disqualify individuals from certain projects.

Our committees are comprised of volunteers from a range of disciplines and sectors, with expertise pertinent to the issues under consideration.

The NRC procedures include specific questions and assessments at virtually every stage of a project that are designed to bring possible conflicts of interest to the surface. Two essential parts of this process are, at the time of appointment, completion of a short form on "Potential Sources of Bias" that lists professional and financial connections and indicates any positions taken in relevant public statements, and discussion of this information at the committee's first meeting. When it is difficult to find individuals with the pertinent knowledge who have not been involved previously with an issue that will come before the committee, the situation is resolved by selecting a carefully balanced group so that all points of view can be represented.

What is the role of the sponsor in picking the committee?

Sponsors are encouraged to suggest types of expertise and perspectives that should be on the committee and to suggest individuals to be on the committee. All decisions on committee membership rest with the National Academies. Generally, employees or officers of a sponsoring organization may not serve on a committee for a study funded in whole or in party by that sponsor.

Are you related to the NSF or NIH?

The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health are government agencies and are not related to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the National Research Council (NRC), or the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

Why can’t the National Academies give real time advice?

Because the findings and recommendations in the reports are the result of a formal and highly structured process of information gathering, deliberation, and peer reviews, it is inconsistent to issue real time advice. Until the final reports are approved by the institution and the peer review office, they are not official products of the national Academies.

How are your reports reviewed and produced?

All reports are peer reviewed using guidelines and processes established by the Academies’ Report Review committee to assure the highest scientific and technical standards. Reviewers are not asked to approve the report or to replace the scientific judgment of the committee with their own, but rather asked to indicate whether: 1) the report is clear and concise, 2) its arguments and conclusions appear to rest on adequate data properly represented, 3) uncertainties in the data are recognized, 4) policy matters are handled appropriately, 5) the report reveals or suggests bias, and 6) the report seems to be complete, fair, and responsive to the committee’s charge.

This process ensures the credibility and authority of every NRC report by subjecting it to critical review by a body of peers highly knowledgeable in the subject matter. Adherence to the review process protects against a committee taking a narrow or parochial view of a problem, or failing to consider fully or properly document data or information pertinent to the issue under review. The process is particularly aggressive in differentiating committee opinions and judgment from findings of fact well grounded in research.

Are your reports free or for sale? And are they all on the Internet?

Some of our publications are free, and most are available online at National Academies Press. Most are available for sale through National Academy Press.

How are members selected for the National Research Council boards?

Each board advises the national Academies on possible future activities for a range of subject areas. In developing a board’s membership, the Academies seek to have expertise in the various relevant disciplines and in subject matter areas that are in the board’s portfolio of studies or other activities. In addition, the Academies seek diversity, academic distinction, geographic balance and to have about a quarter of the members drawn from the membership of the NAS, NAE, or IOM.

How much do National Academies studies cost?

Costs vary with the type and scope of the activity. Multi-year consensus reports can cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars. On the other hand, short consensus reports, workshops, and roundtables typically do not require the same financial investment as a consensus study. The Academies have implemented mechanisms to keep costs low and is continuing to review its policies and procedures to identify other change to improve efficiency.

How can my program work with the National Academies administratively?

The National Academies are equipped with administrative tools to carry out its Congressional charter. For example, blanket authorizations have been granted for sole-source contracts. In addition, the Academies have master contracts with more than a dozen federal departments that can be used to rapidly initiate work. Research grants, co-operative agreements, and contract proposals can be rapidly prepared.