NSF Delays Reply to Hill Query on Social Science Grants

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

The National Science Foundation needs one more week to reply to a controversial request from the chairman of the House of Representatives science committee to explain why five social sciences grants were approved. And NSF wants its oversight body to weigh in first.

On 25 April, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) wrote to acting NSF Director Cora Marrett about his "concerns regarding some grants approved by the foundation and how closely they adhere to NSF's 'intellectual merit' guideline." Smith requested "access" to both the reviews from outside scientists and the analyses of the program officers who funded them.

Scientific leaders and senior House Democrats have condemned that request and related draft legislation that would alter NSF's grant-making process, viewing it as an unwarranted intrusion into NSF's vaunted peer review system. On Wednesday, three former NSF directors asked Smith to "rescind the April 25, 2013 letter and keep this draft bill from ever coming up for a vote or from being incorporated in other legislation."

Smith had asked for the grants information "within 2 weeks," a period that ended yesterday. NSF met that deadline, barely, submitting an "interim" response by the close of business.

But NSF's response doesn't contain the information Smith is seeking. Instead, Marrett told the National Science Board this afternoon that, "at the request of chairman Dan Arvizu, I have told Mr. Smith that I would respond by the end of next week following input from the board."

That delay postpones appears to be okay with Smith. "The Chairman looks forward to reviewing the full response, including all of the information requested in the April 25 letter," a committee aide says.

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