House Passes NSF Appropriations Bill: Damage to Social and Behavioral Sciences Less Than Feared
May 2014 

After over 17 hours of debate, the House of Representatives voted last night, 331-87, to pass the fiscal year 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Appropriations bill that funds the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

Although the CJS bill made its way through subcommittee and committee markups with few threats to social, behavioral, or education sciences, AERA and other science advocates prepared for potential amendments on the House floor. The amendments materialized, but the overall damage was less than feared.

As anticipated, during floor debate Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) expressed that he was troubled by the administration’s spending on political science and social science. 

Cantor applauded an effort by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) to “reform NSF” and stated that an amendment would be offered by Smith, chairman of the House Science Committee to hold the Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Sciences Directorate funding in 2015 at 2014 levels. 

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), ranking minority member on the CJS subcommittee (who recently spoke at the AERA Annual Meeting), responded that it would be “unwise” and “misguided” for Congress to require NSF to move away from its “world-renowned, merit-based process” for reviewing proposals.

Also of concern were possible amendments directed at reducing funding for the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate, and one or more targeting individual grants awarded by NSF.

Of interest to education researchers and the broader social and behavioral sciences community were the following:

  • The amendment offered by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) would maintain overall funding for NSF, by reducing and then adding back $15.35 million within NSF’s research account. Offering the amendment provided an opportunity for Smith to express his displeasure in the “dozens or perhaps hundreds of questionable grants” funded by NSF, and his interest in moving more funds into the physical sciences. In the House Science Committee, he has been particularly critical of NSF’s SBE and EHR Directorates.

  • An amendment offered by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) would reduce funding for NSF’s non-research account. During debate, Broun emphasized that he was not cutting basic research, but “silly things” that NSF has funded, such as climate change media games. (NSF’s EHR Directorate was recently targeted by the Heritage Foundation for elimination, so advocates expected an amendment related to EHR.) The amendment failed on a voice vote.

  • An amendment offered by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) would make participation in the American Community Survey voluntary. It passed on a voice vote.

  • An amendment offered by Rep. Paul Goser (R-AZ) would prohibit the use of funds for various studies. For example, the amendment included a series of prohibitions in 14 research areas, including one that read “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to study the effects of online interactive games.” The amendment was ruled out of order.

AERA staff and colleagues from other research associations have spent considerable time on Capitol Hill ensuring that members of Congress understand the important role that the SBE and EHR Directorates play in building knowledge that is critical to the country’s needs.

Working in collaboration with the Coalition for National Science Funding, a statement was sent to House members urging them to hold the line on NSF funding that was championed by retiring Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Fattah.  It also urged opposition to any amendments that threatened EHR, the social and behavioral sciences, and individual grants.

The Senate will take up its version of the CJS bill next week. It is expected to be a good bill for SBE and EHR, although the spending allocations for the overall bill must fit within the Bipartisan Budget Act agreed to in December, minus some additional cuts due to lower-than-expected revenues from the Federal Housing Authority.

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