The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology, or FIRST Act, was introduced two weeks ago by Representative Larry Buschon (R-IN) the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Research of the larger House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. We believe the legislation is a misguided attempt to re-authorize the National Science Foundation (NSF), as it significantly cuts funding to the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE), which is primarily responsible for funding anthropological research.
If this legislation were enacted, for the first time, Congress would set funding targets for each individual directorate instead of funding NSF as a whole and allowing the agency to allocate funds internally. All directorates would receive an increase EXCEPT SBE, Geosciences, and International and Integrative Activities (IIA). SBE’s budget would be reduced from $267 million it received in fiscal year 2014 to about $200 million in fiscal year 2015.
NSF’s overall budget authority is about $7 billion, one of the larger public sources of funding for researchers in the US. While the SBE budget represents a relatively small share of that total, almost two-thirds of all publicly funded social science research comes from the NSF. We certainly agree that federal operations must be mindful of current fiscal conditions, but we believe it is ill-advised to leave it up to a partisan Congress to determine which categories of science funding should be increased and which should be cut.
The AAA Executive Director and the Public Affairs staff have been closely following this issue, meeting with Congressional representatives, working with coalitions (such as the Consortium of Social Science Associations, the Coalition for National Science Funding and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences) to increase overall funding for the NSF, and funding for the SBE. AAA staff have prepared a useful summary of the issues in the legislation on the AAA blog, which includes ways you can support the AAA. Staff have written columns for the Huffington Post and for the Chronicle for Higher Education.
In the coming weeks, the entire House Committee on Science, Space and Technology will vote on the FIRST Act. If it passes in this Committee, and then the full House of Representatives, it will be up for Senate consideration. Please know that your Association is hard at work protecting the interests of researchers and their research. We thank you for your support. For those of you based in the US, we encourage you to let your Congressional representatives know how you feel about the importance of public investments in social science research.
American Anthropological Association, President