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FY 2013 NSF Political Science Research Funding Eliminated by House

Richard M. Jones
Number 74 - May 25, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Earlier this month the House of Representatives passed HR. 5326, the FY 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill.  Before doing so, Members voted on 63 amendments to the bill, of which 36 were adopted.

Rep. Jeff Flake, a six term Republican representing Arizona’s sixth congressional district, offered several amendments to the bill.  The House rejected one of his amendments to reduce the FY 2013 appropriation for the National Science Foundation by $1.2 billion.    

Flake offered another amendment regarding FY 2013 funding for the foundation stating:

“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation.”

The House passed the amendment on primarily a party line vote of 218-208. 

An NSF document describes the Political Science Program as follows:

“The Political Science Program supports scientific research that advances knowledge and understanding of citizenship, government, and politics. Research proposals are expected to be theoretically motivated, conceptually precise, methodologically rigorous, and empirically oriented. Substantive areas include, but are not limited to, American government and politics, comparative government and politics, international relations, political behavior, political economy, and political institutions.

“In recent years, program awards have supported research projects on bargaining processes; campaigns and elections, electoral choice, and electoral systems; citizen support in emerging and established democracies; democratization, political change, and regime transitions; domestic and international conflict; international political economy; party activism; political psychology and political tolerance. The Program also has supported research experiences for undergraduate students and infrastructural activities, including methodological innovations, in the discipline.”

Selections from the debate follow:

Rep. Flake:

“Mr. Chairman, this amendment would prohibit the National Science Foundation from using taxpayer dollars to fund political science research.
“To be clear, my amendment does not reduce funding for the NSF. Earlier in consideration of this bill, I offered an amendment that would reduce NSF funding. This amendment is simply oriented toward ensuring, at the least, that the NSF does not waste taxpayer dollars on a meritless program.

“The Nation is closing in on a $16 trillion debt; deficit, more than $1.3 trillion. Nearly 40 cents of every dollar we spend is borrowed. Congress can either continue funding unnecessary programs like someone is printing cash in the basement, or we can face facts that there simply isn't enough money to go around.
“Now, I stand here today and I'll defend responsible Federal spending on matters of Federal responsibility. Among other things, Congress ought to ensure funding for strong national defense, a secure border.  There are things, however, given the economic realities, that Congress ought to reconsider funding on the back of future generations. Just remember, every dollar we're spending in discretionary spending this year, we are borrowing from our kids and our grandkids.
“Let me simply say I can think of few finer examples to cut than the National Science Foundation's Political Science Program. According to the NSF Web site, to date, more than $80 million has been awarded to the program's nearly 200 active projects. Three-quarters of these awards, totaling over $46 million, were directed to universities with endowments greater than $1 billion.     Again, three-quarters of these awards under this program for political science research, totaling over $46 million, were directed to universities that have endowments greater than $1 billion.
“Think about it. Three out of the four of the grants awarded by the NSF Political Science Program go to the wealthiest universities in the country. Would those who would oppose this amendment have believed that Harvard and Yale would have to close their political science departments if Federal grants are not available for this program? Of course not. These universities and the field of political science will be just fine.
 “However, my greatest concern is not who received these funds, but how they are spent. Every dollar Congress spends is money we don't have, as I mentioned.
“So what kind of research is NSF charging to our credit card? $700,000 to develop a new model for international climate change analysis; $600,000 to try to figure out if policymakers actually do what citizens want them to do.  Let me say that again: $600,000 here spent trying to figure out if policymakers actually do what citizens want them to do. I think we can answer that question in about 5 minutes when we vote on this amendment because I can tell you, people out there want us to quit funding projects like this.   $301,000 to study gender and political ambition among high school and college students; $200,000 to study to determine why political candidates make vague statements. $200,000 to study why political candidates make vague statements. That's what we're paying for here.
“These studies might satisfy the curiosities of a few academics, but I seriously doubt society will benefit from them. How can we justify this outcome?
“Now, I hold a graduate degree in political science myself. I agree that such research has its benefits. The work of political scientists advances the knowledge and understanding of citizenship and government, politics, and this shouldn't be minimized. But they shouldn't be subsidized by the National Science Foundation.   We can't continue to spend money like this. I urge adoption of the amendment and yield back the balance of my time.”

Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Chaka Fatah (D-PA):
“Let me say, this program has been around for over 30 years, and a lot of political change has swept across the world from the time that this program started.
“I think that it may appear to be costly, $11 million out of a $7 billion funding for the National Science Foundation, but I think that however expensive an education may be, ignorance will probably cost our country more.
“It is important that we understand the political dynamics, radicalization of populations around the world, how political parties operate in the former Soviet Union, all of the other issues that are being studied.
“I can see that you could probably bring a list of studies in front of the Congress from the National Science Foundation and get a laugh on any day. But these studies are important. They're merit based. They're decided on merit only.  The fact that some of the best funded universities win has to do, in part, with the fact that they're able to have very good faculty who put together very good research projects, and they provide our country and our society a great deal of intellectual benefit.
“Now, there's some advantage, I guess, politically to appear to be anti-intellectual, to have some desire to know little or less about what's going on in the world about us. But it is not worthy of a great Nation.  Now, Singapore has 4.8 million people. They put $7 billion in the National Science Foundation. We put $7 billion, and we spend our time tonight debating whether we want to cut some money, trying to understand how their political system got to the point of understanding that even in a very small country, it was critically important for them to become indispensable in terms of having a thirst for knowledge.  I would hope that this House would reject this amendment.”

Rep. Flake:

“Let me just say, and I won't take all the time, but there is something to the ‘laugh factor.’  At some point we've got to realize here that the country's watching us, and they're looking to see if we're funding programs like $600,000 to try to figure out if policymakers actually do what citizens want them to do? $200,000 to study why political candidates make vague statements?
“We're funding this with taxpayer dollars. The acid test ought to be for all of us, whenever we're spending money here, is this program worth borrowing money from our kids and our grandkids, from some countries, that don't like us very much who are buying our bonds?
“And this doesn't pass that test. It doesn't even come close. And if we simply say this is a big NSF budget and this is a very small part of this, this program, if we continue to say that, we'll never cut it, and that's the problem here. We aren't.
“The NSF funding, overall, is way up from the post-stimulus level. We said at the time that the stimulus was passed that that's just a one-time deal, and these rates will come down, or these programs will come down. They haven't. We're continuing to fund them. And programs like this, the country just looks around and says, this is laughable. Look at what our policymakers are doing.  Again, I would say that we will find out the question, the $600,000 question, as to whether or not policymakers actually do what citizens want them to do, by how we vote on this amendment right now.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics