Washington, D.C. – The House of Representatives today passed the bipartisan Scientific Research in the National Interest Act (H.R. 3293) to ensure that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is open and accountable to the taxpayers about how their hard-earned dollars are spent.

Introduced by Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the bill requires that each NSF grant award be accompanied by a non-technical explanation of how the project serves the national interest. This written justification is intended to affirm NSF’s determination that a project is worthy of taxpayer support. The bill passed the House by a vote of 236 – 178.

Chairman Smith: “America’s future economic growth and national security depend on innovation.  Public and private investments in research and development (R&D) fuel the economy, create jobs and lead to new technologies that benefit Americans’ daily lives. Unfortunately, in recent years, the federal government has awarded too many grants that few Americans would consider to be in the national interest.

For instance, the NSF awarded $700,000 of taxpayer money to support a climate change-themed musical that quickly closed. And almost one million dollars for a social media project that targeted Americans’ online political speech.  A few other examples of questionable grants include: 

  • $487,000 to study the Icelandic textile industry during the Viking era;
  • $340,000 to study early human-set fires in New Zealand;
  • $516,000 to help amateurs create a video game to "Relive Prom Night."
  • $233,000 to study ancient Mayan architecture and their salt industry; and
  • $220,000 to study animal photos in National Geographic magazine.

“When the NSF funds such projects there is less money to support worthwhile scientific research that keeps our country on the forefront of innovation.  Such areas include computer science, advanced materials, lasers, telecommunications, information technology, development of new medicines, nanotechnology, cybersecurity and dozens of others that hold the greatest promise of revolutionary scientific breakthroughs. These sectors can create millions of new jobs and transform society in positive ways. This bill ensures that a project’s benefits are clearly communicated to earn the public’s support and trust.  Researchers should embrace the opportunity to better explain to the American people the potential value of their work. This bill is an essential step to restore and maintain taxpayer support for basic scientific research.”

The NSF has recognized the need for increased transparency and accountability and has recently implemented an internal policy consistent with the national interest criteria. This legislation makes this commitment permanent.

At a Science Committee hearing last year, NSF Director France Córdova agreed with a legislative effort to uphold a national interest standard for taxpayer-funded research grants. The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act is virtually identical to a provision that passed the House last year as part of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015

The bill clearly states, “Nothing in this section shall be construed as altering the Foundation’s intellectual merit or broader impacts criteria for evaluating grant applications.”

The following bipartisan members of the Science Committee are original cosponsors: Reps. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.); Frank Lucas (R-Okla.); Alan Grayson (D-Fla.); Barbara Comstock (R-Va.); John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) Randy Weber (R-Texas); Stephen Knight (R-Calif.); Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla); Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.); Brian Babin (R-Texas); Mo Brooks (R-Ala.); Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.); Bill Johnson (R-Utah); Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.); Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas); Bill Posey (R-Fla.); Gary Palmer (R-Ala.); and Ralph Abraham (R-La.).