The Role of Congress in Funding Social Science, Part II

Apr 17 '13

The folks at Mischiefs of Faction have written up a summary of the last week’s panel on the National Science Foundation political science program, which I mentioned here.  The comments of Rep. Daniel Lipinski (a political scientist) are especially important:

Rep. Lipinski made a particularly useful point about legislative procedure…The NSF funding restriction came in the continuing resolution (CR) that keeps the federal government funded for the rest of this fiscal year (ending Sept. 30, 2013). Congress uses CRs when it has trouble reaching agreement on appropriations bills, which are the traditional legal funding mechanism through which Congress disburses funds to the federal government. The blindsided academic community has therefore been focused on ensuring that the restriction doesn’t get included in the FY 2014 funding legislation, which could be another CR, but might be an appropriations bill or omnibus funding bill.  However, there is another important target: authorization. All federally funded programs must receive authorization from Congress that occurs separately from funding. Authorization doesn’t actually disburse money, but it provides the legal authority for a unit to exist and receive funding.  Authorization must occur before appropriation. Typically, programs receive authorizations for a period of years (NSF’s last authorization was for four years), but appropriations occur annually.

Rep. Lipinski reminded the room that the authorization bill for NSF will soon be brought to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, and then sent to the Research subcommittee, where Rep. Lipinski is the highest ranking  Democrat. The last time NSF was reauthorized, there was a nearly successful attempt to “zero out” the SBE (Social and Behavior Sciences; the unit where Political Science is housed) unit of NSF. It is reasonable to expect that this might occur again. Without some push back, it could easily go through, since House Republicans (in the majority) have shown a willingness to support it. If this happened, then our efforts to save NSF in the appropriations process this fall wouldn’t matter.  There wouldn’t be a program to fund. The fight (if there is one) over NSF authorization will occur much sooner than the fight over appropriations.

Much more at the post, including ideas about how to take action.