APSA Responds to Senator Coburn's Report on NSF Funding

In April 2011, Senator Coburn (R-OK) released a report entitled, "The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope," that continues his focus on ending NSF funding for all political science projects, and terminating the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) division. At this time, there seems to be no legislative vehicle behind Coburn's report, but APSA, in concert with the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) and our colleagues, will keep the political science community up to date and respond accordingly.

Senator Coburn's report comes in the aftermath of the 2009 defeat of a similar amendment to defund political science research. In the introduction addressed, "Dear Taxpayers," Coburn encourages readers to visit his web site (www.coburn.senate.gov) to read additional oversight reports "highlighting abuse and mismanagement of your tax dollars" and invites the public "to join [him] in the fight to hold the federal government accountable by sending tips (http://coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/submit-a-tip) to [him] about wasteful government spending in your city, town, and state."

The report was released before a scheduled hearing of the Research and Science Education Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The hearing examined SBE, and Myron Gutmann, the assistant director for the directorate, was the lead witness.  APSA monitored this hearing and a report on this hearing will be available on the COSSA web site in due course (www.cossa.org).

Senator Coburn recognizes that President Obama's proposed budget for 2012 would increase NSF funding by nearly $1 billion­-a 13 percent increase-noting that while "there is no question NSF has contributed significantly to scientific discovery. . . . The bad news is a significant percentage of your money is going to what most Americans will consider fraud, waste and abuse, and there are many areas where NSF could contribute far more with better management and smarter targeting of resources."

This new call to "eliminate NSF's Social, Behavioral, and Economics (SBE) Directorate ($255 million in FY 2010)" includes business administration, economics, geography, political science, sociology, international relations, and communications. Coburn asks whether "any of these social studies represent obvious national priorities that deserve a cut of the same pie as astronomy, biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, and oceanography?"

In response to the Obama administration's recommendation of an 18 percent increase in the funding specifically for the SBE Directorate, Coburn concludes, "Rather than ramping up the amount spent on political science and other social and behavioral research, NSF's mission should be redirected towards truly transformative sciences with practical uses outside of academic circles and clear benefits to mankind and the world."

Coburn argues that federal monies from the SBE directorate might be allocated through other agencies, such as the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services and National Endowment for the Humanities. However, ironically, other agencies themselves are shedding social science and humanities support, such as through drastic reduction of Title VI international education and civics programs at the Department of Education and reductions at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Throughout the report, Coburn's disregard for political science is clear.   He states, "only politicians appear to benefit from other NSF studies, such as research on what motivates individuals to make political donations, how politicians can benefit from Internet town halls, the impact of YouTube on the 2008 U.S. elections, and how politicians use the Internet." Moreover, the American National Election Studies (ANES), which were originally funded in 1977, continues to be a source of personal concern for Coburn.

In the end, Coburn affords no recognition to the significant role that political science research plays in understanding and promoting democracy and democratic citizenship at home and abroad, as current events around the globe demonstrate clearly; which, Howard Silver of COSSA stated, "seem[s] odd in a world where building democratic institutions in the Middle East and elsewhere has become increasingly important."

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