House Legislation Would Undermine NSF Merit Review Process

A bill (H.R. 3293) just introduced by the chair of the U.S. House Science Committee would undermine the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) longstanding use of merit review for awarding grants. The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) and several other organizations have expressed their opposition.

The legislation, which is similar to other bills that the AAG has alerted the geography community about, is portrayed by the Science Committee as helping to weed out grants that are unworthy of federal support. The Committee also asserts that nothing in the bill “shall be construed as altering the Foundation’s intellectual merit or broader impacts criteria for evaluating grant applications.”

The legislation would require NSF program officers to produce written justification for each project that receives funding that the grant is “worthy of federal funding” and is in the national interest in at least one of the seven following categories:

  • increased economic competitiveness in the United States;
  • advancement of the health and welfare of the American public;
  • development of an American STEM workforce that is globally competitive;
  • increased public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology in the United States;
  • increased partnerships between academia and industry in the United States;
  • support for the national defense of the United States; or
  • promotion of the progress of science for the United States.

Requiring these justification statements could ultimately force the Foundation’s program officials, including those at the Geography and Spatial Science program, to have to testify publicly in defense of merit review decisions, which are currently handled through a confidential process.

We will monitor this legislation and report on any important developments. View the COSSA statement opposing H.R. 3293. 

—John Wertman