Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

National Science Foundation grant-making supports healthy families – other federal agencies should follow suit

National Science Foundation logoWork-life standards like Seattle’s new paid sick days law aren’t the only way public institutions can support strong, healthy families. Grant-making agencies can also have a significant influence. Take, for example, the new standards recently released by the National Science Foundation (NSF):

Internal changes to a government agency’s home-and-work policy don’t normally warrant a White House rollout and an accompanying Washington Post op-ed. But when the National Science Foundation unveiled plans this week to instill comprehensive support for work-family balance throughout the foundation and its grant work, it was a big step toward redressing the gender gap in U.S. science and engineering.

The new policy isn’t geared exclusively toward women, although they will be its most practical beneficiaries. Researchers will be able to extend or delay research grants to have a baby or adopt a child. They will be able to take time off to care for elderly family members without worrying about losing grant money, research projects or (hopefully) career status. The NSF will even provide funding for research technicians to carry on their work while a parent temporarily leaves the lab.

And because the foundation, with its $6.8 billion annual budget, funds about 20 percent of all federally supported basic research at universities around the country, this new mandate will reach far beyond Washington. (via Miller-McCune)

The new grant-making standards from the NSF are a promising start. Now, imagine the ripple effects if other federal grant-making agencies – like the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and Agriculture – adopted similar standards for their grant recipients, encouraging sensible work-family policies that promote strong families and keep people healthy? Congress doesn’t like it’s moving on federal paid family leave or paid sick leave legislation any time soon, but grant-making standards developed within agency departments are a promising interim step.

Here in Washington State, the University of Washington ranked second in the nation (out of 1216 academic institutions) in total federal science and engineering funding in 2007, according to the NSF. Other Washington schools receiving such funding include: Western Washington University (322); Central Washington University (399); Eastern Washington University (747); and Evergreen State College (934).

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