House Passes Bill to Politicize Grant Making at the National Science Foundation

Feb 10, 2016

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House passed H.R. 3293, the Republicans’ “Scientific Research in the National Interest Act,” requiring the National Science Foundation to publicly justify every research award according to how it meets specific, Republican-proposed criteria for benefiting the national interest. The bill passed by a vote of 236 – 178.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said of H.R. 3293 in her floor statement, “At its core, this bill is about second guessing our Nation’s best and brightest scientists, and the grant making decisions they make.  Perhaps this is not surprising, when so many of my Republican colleagues openly question the validity of whole fields of established science, from the social sciences to climate science to evolutionary biology.

“Far from adding anything useful to the NSF’s review process, H.R. 3293 would add more bureaucracy and paperwork. But my biggest concern about these new requirements is they will push NSF reviewers to fund less high-risk research, which, by its very nature entails the pursuit of scientific understanding without necessarily any particular or known benefit.  We know that high-risk research tends to have the highest reward, something that we have seen throughout the history of the NSF.

“I choose to stand with the scientists when it comes to science.  For that reason, I strongly oppose this legislation.”

To view the full statement, click here.

Several scientific organizations publicly opposed this bill. – To view a list of the organizations and the letters, click here.

The President’s Science Advisor, Dr. John Holdren noted that, “[H].R. 3293 would create doubt at NSF and in the research community about Congress’s real intent in calling into question the adequacy of NSF’s gold-standard merit-review process, for applied as well as for basic research.  This could easily have a chilling effect on the amount of basic research that scientists propose and that NSF chooses to fund, with detrimental consequences for this Nation’s leadership in science, technology, and innovation alike.”

Congresswoman Johnson offered an amendment to align the bill with NSF’s core mission and existing merit review process.

She said, “My amendment fixes the underlying bill by removing restrictions that may stifle high-risk basic research, and by taking decisions about grant funding out of the hands of politicians and putting it back in the hands of scientists, where it belongs.

“NSF’s 1950 mission statement, implemented through its gold-standard merit-review process, has served science and this nation so well. Let’s leave it intact by passing my amendment.”

To view a fact sheet on H.R.3293, click here.

To view Dr. Holdren’s blog post, click here.