FYI: Science Policy News
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Move Made in House to Cut NSF Research Funds

JUL 17, 1998

Support for federal research funding is popular in Washington. Several bills have been introduced to double research funding. The White House sent Congress a budget to increase federal dollars for civilian research. In these efforts, the National Science Foundation has been cited as a shining example of how federal research support should work -- important research being funded free of political interference and with thorough merit review.

Earlier this week the House passed the National Science Foundation Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1273) that authorizes approximately $11.2 billion for the foundation over the years FY 1998-2000. House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) stated that the bill represents “a positive, bipartisan approach to maintaining science policy as a high priority on Congress’s agenda.”

It is almost taken for granted by the science community that Congress sees NSF in a positive light. That is, however, seems not always to be the case. During the floor debate on H.R. 1273, Rep. Mark Sanford (R), representing Charleston and the coastal counties of South Carolina, rose to state his opposition to the NSF portion of the VA/HUD Appropriations Bill that the House is now considering. He said, ”...we need a tighter grip on the way they spend money; that when people back home think about spending a dollar, they really run through a lot of priorities, and they run through a lot of interests that they have before they decide on actually spending that dollar, and that this organization ought to do the same.”He criticized NSF support of research “to study ATMs,” “collaborative activity on poker,” and “cheap talk,” among others. Sanford wants to cut at least $200 million from NSF’s FY 1999 research budget “to tighten the pencil a little bit.”

The “ATMs” that Sanford cited are not money machines, but “Asynchronous Transfer Modes” used in high speed networking. “Poker” is not the card game, but research on social interaction used to study decision making processes. Economic models use “cheap talk” in describing the cost of information.

Sanford is unlikely to prevail, but the degree of his knowledge about the National Science Foundation and the work it sponsors is probably the rule, rather than the exception, among his colleagues. As representatives and senators vote on the NSF appropriation, and other science and technology related appropriations in coming weeks, many will ponder how many constituent calls and letters they have received about, and in support of, federally supported research and development.

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