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GAO issues recommendations on efforts to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination

April 09, 2020

A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) detailed findings of a review of federal efforts to prevent sexual harassment at universities that receive grants for STEM research. The GAO reviewed five agencies (the Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, NASA, Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Science Foundation) that provide approximately 80 percent of federal STEM research grants and found that four of the five received few complaints under Title IX from individuals at universities. Title IX prohibits sexual harassment and other forms of sex discrimination in education program that receive federal funding. Federal agencies are required to enforce the law at universities they fund.

While all five agencies have established grantee sexual harassment prevention efforts beyond those required by Title IX, none of them have goals and plans for all of their efforts and thus lack clear ways to evaluate how well they are working and where they could improve. The report also notes that inconsistent with federal regulations implementing Title IX, two of the agencies — the DOE and USDA —lack finalized procedures for complaints and thus cannot ensure they are consistently handling complaints.

The GAO is making 17 recommendations to the five agencies, including to finalize and publish complaint procedures, establish goals and an overall plan for prevention efforts, and fully adopt two collaboration leading practices. The agencies agreed with GAO’s recommendations and identified actions they plan to take to address them. The full report and recommendations can be accessed here.

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