Tom Coburn Amendment Limiting National Science Foundation Research Funding Passes Senate

03/21/2013 01:06 am ET | Updated Mar 21, 2013

A measure limiting National Science Foundation funding for political science research projects passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, quietly dealing a blow to the government agency.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) submitted a series of amendments to the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, the Senate bill to keep the government running past March 27. One of those amendments would prohibit the NSF from funding political science research unless a project is certified as "promoting national security or the
economic interests of the United States."

"Studies of presidential executive power and Americans' attitudes toward the Senate filibuster hold little promise to save an American's life from a threatening condition or to advance America's competitiveness in the world," Coburn wrote in a letter to NSF director Subra Suresh last week explaining his proposal.

Coburn's NSF amendment was approved by the Senate during a voice vote on Wednesday afternoon.

"I’m pleased the Senate accepted an amendment that restricts funding to low-priority political science grants," Coburn said in a statement following the vote. "There is no reason to spend $251,000 studying Americans' attitudes toward the U.S. Senate when citizens can figure that out for free."

NSF funding for such research has long been a target of Coburn's. The Republican offered a similar amendment in 2009, and in 2011 released an oversight report on the NSF's "mismanagement and misplaced priorities."

The passage of Coburn's amendment was met with backlash from members of the academic community, including the American Political Science Association.

"Adoption of this amendment is a gross intrusion into the widely-respected, independent scholarly agenda setting process at NSF that has supported our world-class national science enterprise for over sixty years," the association said in a statement. "The amendment creates an exceptionally dangerous slippery slope. While political science research is most immediately affected, at risk is any and all research in any and all disciplines funded by the NSF. The amendment makes all scientific research vulnerable to the whims of political pressure."

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