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Threats to Geography and Social Science Funding

In recent months, various threats to geography and social science research funding have arisen as the result of Congressional actions.  This page details the most-serious threats and suggests ways in which AAG members can engage on these critical issues.

Chairman Smith Attacks Individual NSF Grants - AAG Responds

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, has been reviewing indivdiual grants awarded by NSF through the merit-review process in an effort to undermine the value of some research funded by the Foundation.  Some of the grants that Chairman Smith has questioned were funded through the agency's Geography and Spatial Sciences (GSS) program.  

On October 7, 2014, AAG Executive Director Doug Richardson sent a letter to the Chairman that praises the value of GSS-funded research and asserts that Smith's action "undermines our nation's scientific endeavor and makes young Americans reticent to pursue careers in critical STEM fields."    

FIRST Act would Dramatically Cut Social Science Funding at NSF

In June 2014, we sent a message to AAG members about the FIRST (Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology) Act (H.R. 4186) - a House bill that would impose new caps on National Science Foundation (NSF) research directorates and would severly limit funding available to the Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) science directorate.  The NSF's Geography and Spatial Sciences program is part of SBE.   

Coburn Amendment and Political Science Funding

On March 26, 2013, as part of Public Law 113-6, the consolidated and continuing appropriations act for Fiscal Year 2013, Congress passed an amendment that restricts the ability of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund political science research. Specifically, the text says:

SEC. 543. (a) None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation, except for research projects that the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.

(b) The Director of the National Science Foundation shall publish a statement of the reason for each certification made pursuant to subsection (a) on the public website of the National Science Foundation.

The AAG is deeply troubled by this action and we have been working both independently and through our many friends in the Washington science community, including the American Political Science Association (APSA) and the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), to push back against this attack on social science research funding.

The NSF’s Geography and Spatial Sciences Program, like the Political Science Program, is part of the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate. We have been engaged on these critical funding issues for many years and this page and the linked items below will provide AAG members with information about the current situation in Washington and how you can help.

AAG & APSA Coordination

The American Political Science Association and the AAG have long been coordinating closely on threats to social science funding, and on responding to the Coburn Amendment. See the Letter from APSA thanking thanking us for our engagement on these matters and suggesting ways that AAG members can assist in the response to the threats to federal funding for political science research.

AAG President Eric Sheppard Highlights AAG Activities on Coburn Amendment

AAG President Eric Sheppard recently shared an important message with the Association's membership detailing the AAG response to the Coburn Amendment.  The message was posted on the AAG website and through the Association's social media pages and was shared broadly.

AAG Resolution on Coburn Amendment

As part of their recent meeting in concert with the 2013 AAG Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, the AAG Council adopted a resolution opposing the Coburn Amendment and expressing solidarity with our friends at APSA.  

Continuing Threats to Social Science Funding

Please see this recent article from COSSA Washington Update, the biweekly newsletter of the Consortium of Social Science Associations, that details ongoing threats to social science research funding at NSF and the latest developments around the Coburn Amendment. The AAG is a founding member of COSSA and AAG Executive Director Doug Richardson is a member of the COSSA Board of Directors and also serves on COSSA’s Executive Committee.

Sequestration: AAG Response

In February 2013, the AAG sent a message informing all members about the federal budget action known as sequestration, which is limiting funding to most federal programs, including scientific research accounts and urging AAG members to express their views on this issue to policymakers.  We sent a second message to the membership in September 2013 to follow up on this critical topic.

How AAG Members Can Help

Regarding the Coburn Amendment, we are asking the same of AAG members as our colleagues at the American Political Science Association, with whom we’ve been working on these issues for years. Please see the recent letter from the APSA to the AAG regarding ways their asking members of peer associations to assist.

Contact Your Congressional Representative

We always encourage AAG members to contact your members of Congress on issues of importance to you to express your views on these issues. A listing of U.S. Senators can be found at: And you can locate your U.S. Representative at:

Public Outreach and Education

Separately, we encourage AAG members to write op-eds or letters to the editor in their local or in national newspapers and other publications. And we also urge you to work within your community to emphasize the importance of research in and funding for geography and the sciences broadly, including the social science disciplines. We encourage members to relate why geography research and the geographic aspects of social science research are critical to the public.