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April 26, 2013 10:47 AM How Congress Is Trying to Micromanage American Research

By Henry Farrell

Via Scott Aaronson, Congressional pushback against NSF funding has expanded past the social sciences.

Yesterday, over the course of two contentious hearings, the new chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology floated the idea of having every NSF grant application include a statement of how the research, if funded, “would directly benefit the American people.” Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) said that he was not trying to “micromanage” the $7 billion agency but that NSF needs to do a better job of deciding what to fund given the low success rates for grant applicants and a shrinking federal budget. … The morning hearing examined the president’s overall 2014 budget request for science and featured presidential science adviser John Holdren. The afternoon hearing focused on NSF’s 2014 budget request. The timing gave Republican legislators the chance to level a double-barreled attack on several grants in the social sciences that NSF has awarded in recent years. … Instead of confining himself to social science research, as he and his Republican colleagues had done during the morning hearing with Holdren, Smith focused on NSF’s entire portfolio in his afternoon comments to acting NSF Director Cora Marrett and Dan Arvizu, chair of the National Science Board that oversees NSF. … Later in the hearing, Smith made the case for a new yardstick with which to measure an NSF grant that would focus on its likely contribution to “the national interest.” … Smith has a ready vehicle for implementing his suggestions. Committee staff members are already working on legislation that “authorizes”—or creates a legal framework—for NSF’s programs.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.