President’s Science Advisor Agrees NSF Should Justify Taxpayer-Funded Research Grants

Mar 26, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Science, Space, and Technology Committee today held a hearing to review President Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2015 (FY15) budget request for programs and science agencies under the Committee’s jurisdiction. Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, testified on the President’s overall priorities as reflected in the proposal.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas): “The Administration’s willful disregard for public accountability distracts from the important issues of how America can stay ahead of China, Russia, and other countries in the highly-competitive race for technological leadership. All government employees and their agency heads need to remember they are accountable to the American taxpayer who pays their salary and funds their projects.  It is not the government's money; it's the people's money.”

Chairman Smith questioned Dr. Holdren about a lack of transparency and accountability at NSF, highlighting a number of specific NSF grants.  Chairman Smith asked if Dr. Holdren thought NSF should be required to provide a justification for grants that have been funded by the American taxpayer.  The grants Chairman Smith highlighted include:

  • Studying fishing practices around Lake Victoria in Africa, $15,000;
  • $340,000 to study the ecological consequences of early human-set fires in New Zealand;
  • A 3-year, $200,000 study of the Bronze Age on the island of Cyprus and elsewhere around the Mediterranean;
  • Surveying archived lawsuits in Peru from 1600-1700, $50,000;
  • A climate change musical, $700,000; and
  • Causes of stress in Bolivia, $20,000

While refusing to speak about specific examples, Dr. Holdren agreed that the NSF should provide justification on the agency’s website for grants awarded taxpayer dollars. The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act (H.R. 4186), approved earlier this month by the Research and Technology Subcommittee, expands accountability and requires transparency at NSF. The pertinent section of the FIRST Act requires NSF to describe why each grant is worthy of taxpayer funding and is in the national interest. 

For additional information about today’s hearing, including witness testimony, please visit the Committee’s website.