Congressman Lamar Smith

Representing the 21st District of Texas
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Smith Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Ensure NSF Research Advances ‘National Interest’

Jul 29, 2015
Press Release
Holds NSF accountable for how taxpayer dollars are spent

Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today introduced the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is accountable to the taxpayers about how their hard-earned dollars are spent.  The bill requires that each NSF public announcement of a grant award be accompanied by a non-technical explanation of the project’s scientific merits and how it serves the national interest.  This written justification is intended to affirm NSF’s determination that a project is worthy of taxpayer support, based on scientific merit and serves the national interest.

Chairman Smith: “We must set funding priorities that ensure America remains first in the global marketplace of basic research and technological innovation, while preventing misuse of Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars. Unfortunately, in the past NSF has funded too many questionable research grants - money that should have gone to projects in the national interest. For example, how does the federal government justify spending $220,000 to study animal photos in National Geographic? Or $50,000 to study lawsuits in Peru from 1600 - 1700? Federal research agencies have an obligation to explain to American taxpayers why their money is being used on such research instead of on more worthy projects.

“Investments in basic research can lead to discoveries that change our world, expand our horizons and save lives. But we cannot afford to waste taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. For instance, the almost million dollars spent on a climate change musical could have funded research to meet real national priorities such as predicting severe weather events, discovering new sources of energy, and improving cybersecurity. All government employees and their agency heads need to remember they are accountable to the American taxpayer who pays their salaries and funds their projects.  It is not the government's money; it's the people's money. The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act is a step toward more accountability.”

NSF has recently recognized the need for increased transparency and accountability.  NSF is now implementing a policy of clear, non-technical explanations of research projects.  NSF staff and outside researchers will compose project abstracts that explain how each project meets intellectual merit criteria, is consistent with NSF’s mission, and supports the national interest.  This legislation makes this commitment permanent.

At a Science Committee hearing held earlier this year, NSF Director France Córdova agreed with a legislative effort to uphold a national interest standard for taxpayer-funded research grants. The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act is virtually identical to a provision that passed the House this spring as part of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015.  The bill states that the NSF written justification is to be made after a proposal has completed NSF’s reviews for merit and broad impacts.  The bill clearly states, “Nothing in this section shall be construed as altering the Foundation’s intellectual merit or broader impacts criteria for evaluating grant applications.”

The following bipartisan members of the Science Committee are original cosponsors: Reps. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.); Frank Lucas (R-Okla.); Alan Grayson (D-Fla.); Barbara Comstock (R-Va.); John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) Randy Weber (R-Texas); Stephen Knight (R-Calif.); Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla); Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.); Brian Babin (R-Texas); Mo Brooks (R-Ala.); Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.); Bill Johnson (R-Utah); Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.); Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas); Bill Posey (R-Fla.); Gary Palmer (R-Ala.); and Ralph Abraham (R-La.).