Democrats Release Report Critical of Senator Coburn’s Analysis of NSF

August 17, 2011

by Paula Skedsvold

Democratic staff of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology evaluated the substance of the claims made by Senator Coburn in The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope that “NSF had mismanaged or wasted $3 billion.”  The new report by House Democratic staff, Out of Focus: A Critical Assessment of the Senate Report, ‘The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope,’ states: “Of the $3 billion in alleged waste, Science Committee staff cannot validate a single category of significant purported savings.”

In a press release accompanying the report, the Ranking Minority Member of the Committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson stated: “It is important to engage in a serious discussion of those areas of federal spending where we can save money. However, that dialogue—and our subsequent decisions—should be rooted in the facts. The allegations in the Senate staff report were very, very serious, but they turn out to be mistaken. As a result, there is no information in the report that can help inform Congress’s decisions about NSF funding and priorities.”

The Out of Focus report states that the NSF is not sitting on $1.7 billion in uncommitted funds, but instead, NSF is legally retaining these funds since they are obligated for multi-year grants. Of the claim that “NSF is one of at least 15 federal departments, 72 sub-agencies, and 12 independent agencies engaged in federal research and development,” the House Democratic Committee staff state that “the report provides no proof of duplication whatsoever.”

Of particular interest to social and behavioral scientists, the House staff report is highly critical of the cursory Senate review of “questionable research projects.” It states that the Senate’s criticism of these research projects is “built on very superficial press reports” and amounts to “reverse earmarks” in that it pressures an agency to defund particular areas of science without understanding the substance of the research.

House staff contacted the NSF-funded principal investigators identified in the Coburn report to ask if they had any comment about how their work was characterized in the Senate report. Most responded, and their comments are included in an appendix to the report.

View the Out of Focus report [PDF] »