NSF's right to privacy


  • Anonymous


A U.S. District Court judge in the District of Columbia has upheld the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) right to withhold the names of peer reviewers who evaluate specific grant proposals. The practice was challenged for the first time in Wanda and Robert Henke vs. U.S. Department of Commerce and NSF. The judge ruled in August that under an exemption in the Federal Privacy Act, NSF indeed has the right to protect the identities of sources of information used to determine qualifications for federal grants. The precedent-setting case centered on whether federal grants are in fact “federal contracts.” The Henkes claimed that federal grants are not federal contracts and should not be protected by the exemption. The Henkes sued the federal agencies after they were declined a $197,000 grant for fiscal year 1993 to study the efficacy of a device that tests soil stability in areas prone to earthquakes. NSF views the verdict as a victory for protecting the quality of scientific research. Without the right to privacy in the review process, says NSF general counsel Mathew Powell, “we don't believe reviewers would be as candid with their comments.”