The Society for the
Study of Social Issues

Budget negotiations and the NSF

1 August 2011

The Democratic staff of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has released a new report that rejects many of the controversial claims put forward in May by Senator Coburn regarding wastefulness and duplication of research at the NSF.

I wrote about Coburn’s report in an earlier blog-posting. The report which describes seemingly frivolous research studies in a narrow and sensationalist way, pins $1.2 billion in lost funds due to the so-called “waste, fraud, duplication and mismanagement.” The new House report tackles the claims directly and shows that they “were unsubstantiated and reflected a misunderstanding of appropriations law, grant management practices, and the actual findings of Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports.” More on the details can be read here.

This is a significant rebuttal of Senator Coburn’s report, and it will be an important part of ongoing debates around 2012 NSF appropriations. SPSSI has been weighing in on these urgent issues throughout the year and have recently co-signed letters with the Coalition to Promote Research and the American Association for the Advancement of Science that defend NSF’s peer review process and its important role in science funding and the U.S. economy more broadly.

The Subcommittee on Research and Science Education of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing on June 2 to "better understand the research being conducted in the social, behavioral and economic sciences [SBE] and to take a closer look at the Federal funding of such research."  At the hearing serious questions were raised by the chair, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), as to whether SBE science was an appropriate recipient of federal funding at all, and so setting a negative tone for subsequent debate on the issue.

In July the House voted on the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill to keep NSF funding at about the same as 2011 levels and 13% lower than the levels proposed by President Obama to boost investment in science as a long term financial stimulus strategy. Votes on the House floor are due some time before the August 8th start of recess and amendments from Republicans are expected to try to reduce science spending significantly. While there would be serious challenges to this bill from the Senate there is also the combined challenge of Republican demands around debt-ceiling negotiations which will have serious implications for many areas of discretionary spending. A vote on the recent bipartisan solution announced by President Obama on the weekend is expected later today.

Alex Ingrams
SPSSI Policy Coordinator

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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin