Restoring NSF's Political Science Funding: Why Congress Should Reconsider a Potentially Damaging Budget Cut

Article excerpt

Congress passed a continuing budget resolution in March, funding the federal government for another six months. Included in that resolution was an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) prohibiting the National Science Foundation from funding political science research unless it is certified as promoting America's national security or economic interests. Political science receives roughly $10 million annually in NSF research support and was the only academic discipline singled out.

This outcome is potentially damaging to scientific research and m our nation in general. Our nation faces a large budget deficit right now, and it is entirely appropriate for our political leaders to root out waste in government spending. Yet this cut in NSF funding does essentially nothing to limit the scope of government or move it toward fiscal solvency. The federal government spent roughly $3.5 trillion last year; NSF's political science program represents little more than a rounding error in a budget that size.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

But why should the public fund political science research? Political scientists are in the business of examining problems associated with democracy and representation, and investigating solutions for those problems.

Recent NSF grants have funded projects examining how to improve quality and responsiveness among government agencies, how best to measure party polarization, and voter fraud.

The vital NSF-funded American National Election Study, which has asked some of the same questions of voters since 1952, has been used not just by political scientists, but also by psychologists, economists, historians, political practitioners, and others.

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Contrary to some claims, NSF grants do not simply line the pockets of political scientists. Typically, much of the funding is spent on hiring and training graduate students and research assistants, providing them with skills and income they need as they begin their careers teaching the next generation of students. The institution's cut of the funding allows for the funding of other commitments.

Over the past 20 years, NSF's political science program has provided roughly $2 million to the University of Denver, the University of Colorado, and Colorado State University. …