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An Update from Capitol Hill on the NSF Political Science Program (and a Bleg)

- May 20, 2013

On Friday I spoke to a staff person for the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology about the prospects for National Science Foundation funding of political and social science research.  The next legislative step is the re-authorization of the American COMPETES Act, which will likely occur in late June or early July.

This staff person said that there was a very real threat that political science funding or social science funding could be eliminated in the legislation produced by the committee.  In his opinion, the committee’s chair, Lamar Smith, would not necessarily push for either of these himself.  But if another committee member proposed an amendment eliminating this funding, it might be tough to defeat.  This staff person said that some House Republicans are looking to cut discretionary spending wherever they can.  He also said that political science in particular was a relatively easy and powerless target.  And it does not help that few of the Republican members of this committee have universities in their districts.  Moreover, even if political and social science funding survives the reauthorization, there is always the possibility for limitations to come via the appropriations process in the fall.  (See this post at Mischiefs of Faction.)

In short, there is still real cause for concern.  I asked him what we could to do help.  He said that what he needs is this: “bite-sized” stories about political science research, and especially research that would be appealing to more conservative members of the committee.  I asked him for examples of the kinds of topics that might qualify.  He suggested research about national security, transparency, and how to make government smaller and/or smarter.  He noted that he already uses the story of Elinor Ostrom’s research, since her work on managing common-pool resources often emphasizes mechanisms other than a centralized governmental authority.

Some commenters on this blog have wondered whether stories about specific projects were good enough — suggesting that political science needed to make a broader case for its value writ large, or emphasize how NSF funding supports big datasets or graduate education.  I asked this staff person about those things.  He said that stories about specific projects were better and more persuasive (though of course there is no guarantee that they will persuade).

I would like to ask our readers to leave examples of any potentially relevant research projects in comments or send them via email to me or the blog.    I can then forward them on to this staff person.  Some examples, mainly from other social sciences, are in this brochure (pdf) compiled by the NSF itself.

Obviously, there are many other lines of communication currently open between academics, universities, and scholarly associations on the one hand, and legislators on the other.  But individual scholars are best-positioned to identify compelling research.  Please take the time to help if you can.