New Congress goes after political science research funding, the American Community Survey, other surveys, survey incentives and the peer-reviewed, merit-based grant-funding process

By Steve Pierson posted 04-30-2013 16:27

The 113th Congress, which started in January, signaled early on it would repeat previous efforts both to limit research funding in the social, behavioral and economic sciences, to make the American Community Survey (ACS) voluntary, to interfere with the peer-review, merit based grant review process, and to prohibit financial incentives for federal surveys.

Senator Coburn (R-OK) achieved partial success on the former in March with his amendment on the final FY13 funding bill to forbid the NSF from funding political science projects unless the NSF Director certifies in writing that the project is "promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States." The successful amendment was a compromise from his original amendment eliminating all NSF funding for political science research. The March 25 issue of the Consortium of Social Science Associations Washington Update has an excellent, extensive discussion of how the amendment succeeded and its history.
House and Senate bills to make the ACS were also re-introduced. Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced his bill for the third Congress in a row and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced his companion bill for the second time in a row. The 113th Congress versions of the bills, H.R. 1078 and S. 530, have a new component that “no person may be compelled to disclose information relative to the person's religious beliefs or to membership in a religious body”, which, it turns out was put into law in 1976.

As of April 30, H.R. 1078 had 27 cosponsors and S. 530, three. Congressman Poe’s garnered 70 cosponsors in the last Congress and 35 in the 111th. Senator Paul’s bill had four cosponsors in the last Congress.

Neither bill was acted upon in the last Congress although Congressman Poe’s bill did receive a hearing by a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. His effort also led to a successful amendment on an appropriations bill to make the ACS voluntary, which was followed by another successful amendment to eliminate the ACS altogether. Fortunately, the Senate did not agree to either provision. For more on the vote to eliminate funding for the ACS in the last Congress, see this ASA Community blog entry. There you will also find a link to a blog entry on the congressional hearing of Poe’s bill. Similar efforts to cut or make voluntary the ACS are expected on appropriations bills in this Congress.

On April 18, seven House Congressmen introduced a troubling bill called “The Census Reform Act of 2013”, H.R. 1638. The bill would cancel the ACS, Census of Governments, Economic Census and Census of Agriculture and is sponsored by Jeff Duncan, (R-SC), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Andy Harris (R-MD), Walter B. Jones (R-NC), Steve Pearce (R-NM), Reid J. Ribble (R-WI), and Steve Southerland II (R-FL). I have contacted Chaffetz’s, Duncan’s and Harris’s office for their rationale but not heard back. [On May 2, Duncan's office sent me Congressman Duncan's press release for H.R. 1638.] Since the bill's introduction, the following Congressmen have cosponsored the bill: Thomas Massie (R-KY), Raul R. Labrador (R-ID), Bill Posey (R-FL), and Steve Stockman (R-TX).  For reaction to this bill, see this this Washington Post blog by Dylan Matthews, "A new GOP bill would prevent the government from collecting economic data," and this Michael McAuliff Huffington Post piece, "GOP Census Bill Would Eliminate America's Economic Indicators."

We are also hearing that Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) will likely continue his efforts to ban the federal government from providing financial incentives to improve survey response. According to an April 17 Environment and Energy Daily story, "Cash-for-feedback tactic over Klamath dam removal draws fire," Tipton raisied the issued at an April 16 hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee's Energy and Power Subcommittee with Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor. Last year, Tipton successfully amended the FY13 Energy and Water (E&W) appropriations bill banning E&W agencies from using financial incentives. He later introduced a stand-alone bill applying the same prohibition for all federal surveys. Fortunately, none of these provisions were enacted in law in the 112th Congress. For more on this topic, see this 7/6/12 blog entry.

Ten days ago, House Science, Space and Technology Committee (HSSTC) leadership started circulating a bill called the High Quality Research Act. The bill requires the NSF to break with its longstanding approach to funding basic research by certifying all funded research projects “advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science; is the finest quality, is ground breaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and is not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies." Believed to be driven by House Republican leadership, the bill would essentially make NSF a mission research agency (like NIH, Department of Defense or Department of Energy) that must forecast in advance which research will be the most groundbreaking. For more on this bill, see this ScienceInsider article,"U.S. Lawmaker Proposes New Criteria for Choosing NSF Grants," and this Huffington Post piece, "Lamar Smith: Science Peer Review Process Would 'Improve' With Political Oversight," by Michael McAuliff.

On April 25, HSSTC Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to acting NSF director Cora Marrett questioning the rationale for funding five specific research grants whose focus had strong international elements (e.g., one grant title was, “Comparative Network Analysis: Mapping Global Social Interactions.”) You can read HSSTC Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson's (D-TX) letter to Chairman Smith here.

NB: This blog entry was originally written as a sidebar for a June Amstat News piece on the final FY13 budget levels but could not be accomodated because of space issues.

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