Report by Senator Coburn Critical of NSF

By Steve Pierson posted 06-06-2011 09:59

[5/31: I'll update this 5/27 entry by adding links to news stories about the Coburn report as they appear.]

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released a 73-page report on May 26 critical of NSF research and management. The report cites wasteful spending of millions of dollars; "significant mismanagement, fraud and abuse"; and research funding redundancy. One of Coburn's recommendations is to eliminate NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economics (SBE) Directorate.

The report's wasteful spending assertion, similar to critiques made by House Republicans (see 6th paragraph), notes the funding of grants like the following: Facebook FarmVille relationship effects; how parents respond to trendy baby names; producing songs about science; and why the same teams seem to dominate March Madness. The following pieces addresses the worth of "funny sounding" grant titles:
The mismanagement charges are based on inappropriate use of NSF funds by NSF employees or grantees. The redundancy concern is based on "15 federal departments, 72 sub-agencies, and 12 independent agencies engaged in federal research and development."

NSF has not posted a response to the Coburn report to its website as of May 27 but others in the science community are pointing to NSF's rating as a top-performing federal agency.

Coburn's report does acknowledge NSF's important mission and expresses concern for America "losing an edge in science, math, engineering, and technology."

While I can't comment on all aspects of the Coburn report, it is clear the scientific community, including ASA members, should be communicating with policy makers and the public about science research, how it works and why it's important.

Related Links:


07-08-2011 14:39

There's a good piece in today's NYT by David Brooks about the value of social, behavioral and economic research:

06-28-2011 08:16

The following Science Progress piece critiques the Coburn report: "In Defense of the National Science Foundation: A Recent Criticism of Our Nation’s Science Funding Is Remarkably Unscientific" (