NSF Funding: In the news

s.t. bischoff bischoff.st at gmail.com
Mon Apr 29 15:53:28 UTC 2013

Thought this might be of interest to some...

U.S. Lawmaker Proposes New Criteria for Choosing NSF Grants by Jeffrey
Mervis  on 28 April 201

The new chairman of the House science committee has drafted a bill that, in
effect, would replace peer review at the National Science Foundation (NSF)
with a set of funding criteria chosen by Congress. For good measure, it
would also set in motion a process to determine whether the same criteria
should be adopted by every other federal science agency.

The legislation, being worked up by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX),
represents the latest-and bluntest-attack on NSF by congressional
Republicans seeking to halt what they believe is frivolous and wasteful
research being funded in the social sciences. Last month Senator Tom Coburn
(R-OK) successfully attached language to a 2013 spending bill that
prohibits NSF from funding any political science research for the rest of
the fiscal year unless its director certifies that it pertains to economic
development or national security. Smith's draft bill, called the "High
Quality Research Act," would apply similar language to NSF's entire
research portfolio across all the disciplines it supports.

*Science*Insider has obtained a copy of the legislation, labeled
"Discussion Draft" and dated 18 April, which has begun to circulate among
members of Congress and science lobbyists. In effect, the proposed bill
would force NSF to adopt three criteria in judging every grant.
Specifically, the draft would require the NSF director to post on NSF's
website, prior to any award, a declaration that certifies the research is:

1) "…in the interests of the United States to advance the national health,
prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the
progress of science;

2) "… the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and answers questions or
solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and

3) "…not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the
Foundation or other Federal science agencies."

NSF's current guidelines ask reviewers to consider the "intellectual merit"
of a proposed research project as well as its "broader impacts" on the
scientific community and society.

Two weeks ago, Republicans on the science committee took to task both John
Holdren, the president's science advisor, and Cora Marrett, the acting NSF
director, during hearings on President Obama's proposed 2014 science budget
They read the titles of several grants, questioned the value of the
research, and asked both administration officials to defend NSF's decision
to fund the work.

On Thursday Smith sent a letter to Marrett asking for more information on
five recent NSF grants. In particular, he requested copies of the comments
from each reviewer, as well as the notes of the NSF program officer
managing the awards.

In his letter, a copy of which ScienceInsider obtained, Smith wrote: "I
have concerns regarding some grants approved by the Foundation and how
closely they adhere to NSF's 'intellectual merit' guideline." Today, Smith
told *Science*Insider in a statement that "the proposals about which I have
requested further information do not seem to meet the high standards of
most NSF funded projects."

Smith's request to NSF didn't sit well with the top Democrat on the science
committee, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). On Friday she sent
a blistering missive to Smith questioning his judgment and his motives.

"In the history of this committee, no chairman has ever put themselves
forward as an expert in the science that underlies specific grant proposals
funded by NSF," Johnson wrote in a letter obtained by ScienceInsider. "I
have never seen a chairman decide to go after specific grants simply
because the chairman does not believe them to be of high value."

In her letter, Johnson warns Smith that "the moment you compromise both the
merit review process and the basic research mission of NSF is the moment
you undo everything that has enabled NSF to contribute so profoundly to our
national health, prosperity, and welfare." She asks him to "withdraw" his
letter and offers to work with him "to identify a less destructive, but
more effective, effort" to make sure NSF is meeting that mission.

Smith's bill would require NSF's oversight body, the National Science
Board, to monitor the director's actions and issue a report in a year. It
also asks Holdren's office to tell Congress how the principles laid down in
the legislation "may be implemented in other Federal science agencies."

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