Last year around this time, the US House Science Committee was considering a bill that would force the National Science Foundation to reconsider its funding priorities. The Foundation has been tasked with funding basic research, but the bill would have directed it to only fund science deemed to be in the national interest—things like research with defense applications or with obvious economic outcomes.
Yesterday, the committee put the final touches on this year’s version of the bill, and in a bit of good news, some of the more problematic language was gone. Although the current bill still wants the Foundation to perform “investment in strategic areas vital to the national interest,” the actual funding requirements it stipulates provide the NSF with a broad leeway in interpreting the national interests. Grants can go to programs that aid in the “development of a STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] workforce and increased public scientific literacy” or the “promotion of the progress of science.”
But the Committee still wants to be able to blame someone if a grant it doesn’t like gets funded, as it added a requirement that an NSF official provide “written justification” for any grants that are awarded.