Case Study

Insights into Federal Advisory Committees

Federal advisory committees (FACs) play an important role in shaping research and development funding programs. Following the enactment of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) in 1972, the U.S. Congress formally recognized the merits of seeking the advice and assistance of the nation’s citizens in federal affairs. Currently, there are over 1,000 committees providing advice and recommendations to the executive branch on a range of issues, including the allocation of Federal funds.

The purpose of these groups is to advise on “program management,” and to review “other aspects of program performance” within state and federal government. For example, the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC) is chartered with recommending relevant programmatic and policy changes to the Department of Energy. The committee advises the agency on the Basic Energy Sciences program — specifically its research priorities — and identifies opportunities for inter-laboratory collaboration and program integration. Therefore, the members of FACs, such as BESAC, have influence over the establishment of scientific priorities, over their operational outlook, and how the agencies allocate federal funds.

FAC participation has a quantifiable benefit for both individuals and institutions. A 2012 study into National Science Foundation’s (NSF) advisory committees found that for every one faculty member serving on a FAC the university received an additional $125,000 – $138,000 in funding from the agency. This correlation between federal funding and FAC representation is compelling, showing that research institutions can greatly benefit from understanding the FAC nomination and selection process.

FACs select new members primarily by open calls for nominations and self-nominations. FACs are instructed by FACA to maintain a “fairly balanced membership,” such that the members are diverse in their backgrounds and views. Although the exact composition of membership is determined by the FACs charter, a typical FAC has members from academia; for-profit and non-profit organizations; and the federal government.

McAllister & Quinn attends selected open advisory committee meetings and reports the proceedings back to clients. However, researchers who serve on FACs are privy to the recommendations and advice given during closed sessions. Participating on a FACs affords investigators and research institutions a unique opportunity to shape the direction of research and federal extramural funding.

Despite the tangible benefits that FACs provide, many institutions are unaware FACs exist. McAllister & Quinn therefore assists our clients with identifying and selecting candidates for specific FACs. If your institution is interested in growing the number of faculty serving on FACs, we recommend contacting McAllister & Quinn.