Last month, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology voted along party lines to cut funding allocations that enable NASA to study changing climate patterns through their Earth Science program. This week, House Republicans voted 217 to 205 to take a second swipe at the government-funded study of global warming, this time by seeking to impose regulations on how the National Science Foundation utilizes its money, via the pending America Competes Reauthorization Act.
Since it was created by an act of Congress in 1950, the National Science Foundation has served as an independent federal organization that receives taxpayer dollars and grants “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense [of the United States].” The foundation typically determines which areas of research would make the best use of those funds through a merit review process.
The NSF has a huge number of areas of research, which includes climate change—through their geosciences program—as well as clean energy technology. Lamar Smith, the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, is a Republican representing Texas‘ 21st District. Smith thinks that expenditures in these areas, as well as several others, are misplaced, claiming: “Unfortunately, NSF has funded a number of projects that do not meet the highest standards of scientific merits.” Prior to entering politics, Smith worked in business management and law.
So while the NSF will get a slight overall funding increase ($7.6 billion for FY2016, over $7.3 in FY2015), the Republican party is gunning hard to prevent the independent NSF from allocating its resources according to their own merits. Under the America Competes Reauthorization Act, NSF funding in social, behavioral and economic sciences is cut by 55 percent from 2015, and the geosciences budget shrinks by eight percent to $1.2 billion, while clean energy research also takes a hit. In their place, the Republican party hopes to prioritize biology, computer science, engineering, mathematics and physical sciences.
The bill must still be reconciled with a vote in the Senate, and Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it passes as is—but yet again Republicans in the House have set the stage for a partisan conflict, and interference, in areas where scientists and educators have previously been able to work relatively independently of politics.