US ‘national interest’ NSF research bill moves closer

The House of Representatives approves legislation that dictates NSF grants can be awarded only to projects in the ‘national interest’

February 15, 2016
Washington D.C.
Source: iStock

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill that would require the National Science Foundation (NSF) to award grants only for research projects that are “in the national interest”.

The legislation, which was approved after a vote of 236 to 178, includes seven definitions of research that would be classed in this way. These include research that has the “potential” to achieve “increased partnerships between academia and industry”, the “promotion of the progress of science” and the “development of an American STEM workforce” that is “globally competitive”.

It would also include research that could lead to “increased economic competitiveness” in the US, the “advancement of the health and welfare of the American public”, “increased public literacy and public engagement with science and technology” and “support for the national defense of the US”.

The bill states that the public announcement of each award of federal funding must include written justification as to how the grant meets these requirements.

Almost all of those who voted in favour of the bill are Republicans while Democrats largely rejected the legislation.

However, the White House issued a statement of administration policy threatening to veto the bill, stating that it would “needlessly” add to “bureaucratic burdens and overhead” at the NSF and “replace the clarity of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 with confusing language that could cast a shadow over the value of basic research”.

In December 2014, the NSF revised its guidelines to state that a “nontechnical project description” must explain the significance and importance of each project and serve as “public justification” for NSF funding by articulating how the project “serves the national interest”.

The bill’s sponsor and chairman of the House science committee Lamar Smith said that the legislation “makes this commitment permanent”.

However, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, an NSF spokeswoman said that the agency stands by the administration’s statement threatening a veto of the bill.

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