Well this is profoundly worrying. Even if it doesn’t come to fruition, it risks moving the Overton window in a direction that imperils the social sciences as a whole. What interests me though is the existing grant economy as tragedy of the commons this will further intensify. If the overall supply of funding shrinks, it’s rational for institutions to increase the pressure on departments and individuals to bring in grants (i.e. the process is becoming more competitive so our employees need to work harder) and it’s rational for those departments and individuals to apply for more grants in order to increase their chances of success and placate their ever more demanding employers. What does this mean for the social sciences as a whole? Ever greater tracts of time being spent making grant applications with ever decreasing prospects of success.
The 189-page “America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015’’ unveiled by the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology Wednesday sets specific budgets for the various research-funding directorates in the National Science Foundation. Traditionally, the foundation has set its own spending priorities for those directorates, but failed efforts last year by Republican legislators both set to establish Congressional control of those sub-budgets and set the budget for the Director of social Behavioral and Economic Science at more than $100 million less than usual.
This version of COMPETES renews that approach, calling for “$150,000,000 for the Social, Behavioral, and Economics Directorate, of which $50,000,000 shall be for the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics” in both fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Given that NSF allocated $272 million to the directorate in the current fiscal year (with NCES funding in that amount), this represents a 45 percent reduction. The statistics center had a budget of roughly $50 million in the current fiscal year, and so the mandate means the directorate couldn’t share the pain evenly from the reduction.
Opposition to the current bill, such as from the Consortium of Social Science Associations (a Social Science Space partner), has focused on the perceived political management of expert peer-review and the message that social science isn’t worthy of federal funding. “SBE, the smallest of NSF’s directorates, accounts for less than 5 percent of the entire NSF budget,” COSSA argues in a statement. “However, the SBE directorate funds approximately 55 percent of all university-based basic social and behavioral science research in the United States. Its impact is profound.”
The bill is expected to be “marked up” — which can dramatically alter the composition of legislation — on April 22. Because both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans, this bill likely will set the agenda for debates on science spending, even if the Democratic minority introduces its own version. Ultimately, the key fight will be over appropriations for the agency in the two-part federal budgeting dance — asking for the money (authorization) and actually getting the money (appropriations).