House bill would cut social science funding by 42 percent

March 13

This morning, the House Science Committee began marking up its reauthorization of the America Competes Act.  One part of the proposed bill, H.R. 4186, deals with the budgetary allocation for the National Science Foundation, which provides funding for scientific prospects in a range of disciplines.

The bill proposes to cut the allocation to the NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate by 42 percent.  Matt Hourihan graphed the dramatic implication of that:


The hostility of many in Congress to NSF funding of political science is well-documented. It suffered at least a minor setback recently when Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) amendment restricting the funding of political science research was eliminated.

But H.R. 4186 goes well beyond political science.  The NSF’s SBE Directorate funds research in economics, cognitive science, statistics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, geography, political science, and many other disciplines.  Moreover, the SBE’s funding amounts to only 3 percent of the NSF’s total funding.  Thus, cutting the SBE isn’t really going to cut federal spending by much at all.  (The proposed budget for the SBE, $150 million, is a miniscule fraction of the federal budget.)  Instead, cutting the budget for these programs, and only these programs, mainly serves to devalue what social science research can accomplish and why it is important.

More information is here at Social Science Space.  You can read the American Association of Universities’ statement opposing the bill here.  The bill is expected to pass the Science Committee, most likely on a party line vote, which likely means it will be passed on the House floor in a similar fashion.  There is currently no equivalent bill in the Senate, whose actions with regard to H.R. 4186 will obviously be crucial.

UPDATE: After an amendment by Rep. Dan Lipinski, the House Science Committee restored $50 million of SBE funding, but the bill would still constitute a substantial cut.

John Sides is an Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University. He specializes in public opinion, voting, and American elections.
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