Public Affairs

Public Affairs

House Showdown over NSF Grants and Reauthorization

In recent months, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has found itself under the microscope of Chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee Lamar Smith (R-TX). In April, draft legislation (The High Quality Research Act) to reauthorize the NSF was leaked, including the requirement that the NSF must certify in writing that each grant it awards is in the economic or national security interest of the country. The leaking of the legislation was followed by an April 25 letter from Smith to Acting NSF Director Cora Marrett, asking for the notes from peer review and from the program officers for five specific grants that Smith thought might not be in the interest of US taxpayers.

The proposed legislation and the inquiry into the grants have alarmed the science community about Chairman Smith’s intent. The concern is that the inquiry and the legislation will lead to the politicization of science and will infringe on the peer review system that has worked well for decades and made the US the model for other countries. There is also a secondary concern that releasing the comments to the Science Committee will breach the confidentiality the reviewers assumed they had when they made the comments, and will deter scientists from acting as reviewers in the future. According to an interview with a House Science and Technology committee aide that appeared on the AAAS blog, ScienceInsider, on May 9, Chairman Smith contends that the problem is not the scientific review, but whether those projects are vetted by NSF to see if they are an appropriate use of taxpayers’ money. Ranking member of the Science Committee Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has publicly renounced Smith’s request.

The Biophysical Society signed a community-wide letter to Smith opposing his request to NSF. Past NSF Directors, dating back to 1985, also sent the chairman a letter asking him to rescind his request, as did several past assistant directors.

In a surprising development, Marrett responded to Chairman Smith in May, saying that she was not going to divulge the information he requested. Marrett said that she would be happy to discuss the peer review process, how grants are selected, and how the five in question in are in line with the NSF’s mission.

NDD United Releases Sequestration Video, Welcomes Stories on Its Impact

NDD United, a national coalition of 3,200 organizations working to stop budget cuts to core government programs considered discretionary spending, released an educational video on sequestration and its impact on non-defense discretionary programs in late May. The video is an effort to educate policymakers and the public about the impacts sequestration cuts are having on a wide variety of programs, including research, public health, education, public safety, housing, social services, infrastructure, and environmental protection. You can view the video at www.nddunited.org.

In addition, the coalition, of which the Biophysical Society is a member, is asking individuals to share how sequestration is affecting them. You can share you story at www.nddunited.org/#!contact/ch8q.

Bringing NSF research to Congress

The Biophysical Society co-sponsored the 19th Annual Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) Exhibition & Reception held on Capitol Hill on May 7. Over 285 Congressional staff, including 10 members of Congress, attended the event, which highlighted NSF-funded research taking place across the country. The members of Congress who attended were Congressmen Howard Coble (R-NC), Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Bill Foster (D-IL), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Walter Jones (R-NC), Sheila Jackson Lee (D_TX), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), David Price (D-NC), and Paul Tonko (D-NY).

July 2013 Table of Contents