Congressman Flake’s Remarks

Here are Congressman Jeff Flake’s opening remarks in the brief debate over his amendment to defund the NSF political science program:

The nation is closing in on a $16 trillion debt; deficit, more than $1.3 trillion. Nearly 40 cents of every dollar we spend is borrowed. Congress can either continue funding unnecessary programs like someone is printing cash in the basement, or we can face facts that there simply isn’t enough money to go around.

Now, I stand here today and I’ll defend responsible Federal spending on matters of Federal responsibility. Among other things, Congress ought to ensure funding for strong national defense, a secure border.

There are things, however, given the economic realities, that Congress ought to reconsider funding on the back of future generations. Just remember, every dollar we’re spending in discretionary spending this year, we are borrowing from our kids and our grandkids.

Let me simply say I can think of few finer examples to cut than the National Science Foundation’s Political Science Program. According to the NSF Web site, to date, more than $80 million has been awarded to the program’s nearly 200 active projects. Three-quarters of these awards, totaling over $46 million, were directed to universities with endowments greater than $1 billion.

Again, three-quarters of these awards under this program for political science research, totaling over $46 million, were directed to universities that have endowments greater than $1 billion.

Think about it. Three out of the four of the grants awarded by the NSF Political Science Program go to the wealthiest universities in the country. Would those who would oppose this amendment have believed that Harvard and Yale would have to close their political science departments if Federal grants are not available for this program? Of course not. These universities and the field of political science will be just fine.

However, my greatest concern is not who received these funds, but how they are spent. Every dollar Congress spends is money we don’t have, as I mentioned.

So what kind of research is NSF charging to our credit card? $700,000 to develop a new model for international climate change analysis; $600,000 to try to figure out if policymakers actually do what citizens want them to do.

Let me say that again: $600,000 here spent trying to figure out if policymakers actually do what citizens want them to do. I think we can answer that question in about 5 minutes when we vote on this amendment because I can tell you, people out there want us to quit funding projects like this.

$301,000 to study gender and political ambition among high school and college students; $200,000 to study to determine why political candidates make vague statements. $200,000 to study why political candidates make vague statements. That’s what we’re paying for here.

These studies might satisfy the curiosities of a few academics, but I seriously doubt society will benefit from them. How can we justify this outcome?

Now, I hold a graduate degree in political science myself. I agree that such research has its benefits. The work of political scientists advances the knowledge and understanding of citizenship and government, politics, and this shouldn’t be minimized. But they shouldn’t be subsidized by the National Science Foundation.

We can’t continue to spend money like this. I urge adoption of the amendment and yield back the balance of my time.

17 Responses to Congressman Flake’s Remarks

  1. James Newburg May 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    Apparently, Rep. Flake continued after his M.A. to get a Ph.D. in trolling from Troll So Hard University.

  2. Neil Lund May 10, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    Even the best scientific research sounds useless if you’re willing to feign being completely obtuse: “Marie Curie got paid to play with rocks and fraternize with her lab partner!”

  3. Joe U. May 10, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    At least these comments are better than what Coburn said about us two years ago.

  4. Jacob May 10, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    Congressman Flake is running for Senate. I, for one, plan to send a little contribution to his opponent Richard Carmona.

  5. Henry May 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    I was reading this in RSS and was confused because only the first paragraph was indented, hence I thought everything after that was your comments. I was trying to figure out whether you actually agreed with the cuts or were trying to make a (very subtle) satirical point.

  6. Jim May 10, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    Research on whether or not policymakers actually do what citizens what them to do sounds important to me. But then again, I believe in democracy.

    • ChevalierdeJohnstone June 21, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

      Really. I’m more a fan of constitutional republics, myself.

  7. Rob May 10, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    This seems much ado about nothing. The GOP-sponsored budget stands no chance to pass the Senate and faces a threatened Presidential veto.

    • John Sides May 10, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

      Rob: The House and Senate will likely ping-pong these approps bills and it’s not easy to predict what will stay in and what won’t. Obama will probably sign what winds up on his desk if it gets through both chambers. There have been back-channel communications with sympathetic Senate offices today, and let’s say that some staffers aren’t brimming with confidence that polisci funding will survive.

      • Rob May 10, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

        Well then that is indeed unfortunate. Any chance we can take the economists down with us or do they qualify as more science-worthy?

      • Jim May 11, 2012 at 9:24 am #

        My conversations with those on the Hill is quite the opposite. They don’t see ping-ponging as likely this year on any approps bill, but instead a major omnibus package after the election. They also can’t imagine this amendment remaining in a final package given its very slim majority on the floor of the House. While anything can happen, the sense I have been given is this amendment isn’t likely to survive if only because many members of Congress and senators are not super comfortable telling the NSF what to and what not to study in this kind of detail.

        That said, there is not time like the present for APSA to start coordinating a presence on the Hill to convince members of Congress and senators who just don’t care that much about this issue to support poli-sci funding at the NSF.

        • John Sides May 11, 2012 at 9:32 am #

          Jim: It is good to hear that. Thank you. And you are right that APSA needs to coordinate a presence. They are working on that.

  8. Jay Livingston May 11, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    Flake says that these grants were “directed to universities . . . ” To the extent this is true, maybe the solution is a direct grant to the researcher with no kickbacks to the university.

  9. Will Morgan May 11, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    My understanding is that many of these things will shake out when they have to deal with the differences in committee. Whether political science funding is one of them, is another question. I know that the APSA is concerned about this, as is the MPSA. We will update the MPSA website as it evolves.

  10. David Dickinson May 14, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    At least Republicans are being more open about their desire to dumb-down our educational system in order to eliminate competition to the elite, which will continue to buy good education for their children.

  11. Steven Mazie May 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Responding to this attack by defending particular research projects as having “clear benefits” to the world is rather weak tea. Instead, we need to argue for the value of humanities and social science scholarship writ large. I take a step in that direction in a post at Big Think today:

    • ChevalierdeJohnstone June 21, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

      Exactly. NSF exists “to initiate and support basic scientific research and programs to strengthen scientific research potential and science education programs at all levels” and “to appraise the impact of research upon industrial development and upon the general welfare.” Whining that one’s personal research might be impacted is not going to cut it: the case needs to be made that NSF-funded political science grants benefit the “general welfare”.

      Flake’s comments are telling in this regard. He says, basically, that his constituents do not believe NSF grants for political science research benefit the general welfare. That’s a strong and legitimate argument for this proposed legislation. Those who wish to see NSF grants continue need to make the case, not to Congress, but to the American voter, that such grants benefit the general public in some way.