Draft legislation is being circulated by new House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) which would require all research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to be certified to “advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare” and “secure the national defense” of the United States. The NSF must certify that each funded project is of “the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society of large.”
The draft legislation has drawn a vigorous response from the scientific committee. A letter to Smith from six former NSF Directors stated, “ We believe that this draft legislation would replace the current merit-based system used to evaluate research and education proposals with a cumbersome and unrealistic certification process that rather than improving the quality of research would do just the opposite. The history of science and technology has shown that truly basic research often yields breakthroughs – including new technologies, markets and jobs – but that it is impossible to predict which projects (and which fields) will do that. Progress in science requires freedom to explore important questions regardless of where the answers may lead. Over the years, federal funding of basic research, using peer review evaluation, has led to vast improvements in health care, national security, and economic development.”
The draft also drew a sharp response from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) the top Democrat on the Committee. In a letter to Smith, Johnson called the draft legislation “the first step on a path that would destroy the merit-based review process at NSF and intrudes political pressure into what is widely viewed as the most effective and creative process for awarding research funds in the world. It is this process that has supported the growth of the American research university system, and it is this process that has established the American research enterprise as innovation of our age.”
ASCE has joined with other scientific and engineering organizations in a letter to Smith urging him to withdraw the proposed legislation. A copy of the current draft of the legislation is here.