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National Science Board Warns That Pending Bill Could Damage National Science Foundation Peer Review

Board says the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science & Technology (FIRST) Act could impose significant constraints on NSF

by Andrea Widener
May 2, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 18

In a rare response to pending legislation, the National Science Board has warned that a bill before the House of Representatives Science, Space & Technology Committee could damage the National Science Foundation. The science board is the governing body of NSF.

The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science & Technology (FIRST) Act (H.R. 4186) would require an NSF official to personally affirm that grant awards are in the national interest. Additionally, it would give Congress more direct control over funding for individual NSF directorates. Introduced in March, the bill is currently pending before the Science Committee.

This legislation, the science board cautions, could end up discouraging visionary grant proposals or the pursuit of transformative science.

“Some of its provisions and tone suggest that Congress intends to impose constraints that would compromise NSF’s ability to fulfill its statutory purpose,” the science board said in a statement.

The board says it is working with NSF to put in place new processes that increase transparency and accountability in its grant-making process; the changes, it contends, make the pending bill unnecessary.

However, Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas), the bill’s author and chair of the House science committee, says the new processes are too little, too late. He adds that the changes would still not require the affirmation that grants are in the national interest.

“The NSF wants to be the only federal agency to get a blank check signed by taxpayers, without having to justify how the money is spent,” Smith says.


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