Skip to main content

Lawmaker: Every NSF grant 'should directly benefit the American people'

On April 17, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing on the National Science Foundation's (NSF) budget request for FY 2014.  During the hearing chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) suggested that every NSF grant include a statement of how the research "would directly benefit the American people."

According to a news report by ScienceInsider, Smith said NSF needs to do a better job deciding what to fund at a time of budget stringency and lower success rates for grant applicants.  But Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and chairman of the National Science Board that oversees NSF, expressed concern that the proposal might "compromise the integrity" of the peer review process. He noted that the science board had recently reviewed and approved the agency's existing criteria—intellectual merit and the broader impacts of the research. Acting NSF Director Cora Marrett offered a compromise, suggesting the NSB may be an appropriate body to assess what it means for research to be "for the benefit of the U.S. population." Arvizu said he would be open to seeing whether Smith's guideline "would serve the national interest.\ 

Meanwhile, presidential science advisor John Holdren pushed back on May 2 saying "it would make no sense at all to confine taxpayer support to those projects for which a likely direct contribution to the national interest can be identified in advance, unless of course the national interest is defined to include expanding the boundaries of knowledge."

Holdren is not opposed to reviewing the implementation of the peer-review process at individual agencies from time to time, but he said that "fiddling in any fundamental way with the model of judging research proposals via review by scientific experts in the relevant fields would place at risk the world-leading quality of this nation's scientific and engineering enterprises."

In early May, Smith issued a statement where he emphasized that his hope was to create a bipartisan bill that would help the agency "prioritize research projects."  He also emphasized that the goal was to maintain the current peer review process but to add a "layer of accountability."

Related Links:

Blog Name