Rough Going for Behavioral Science in NSF Authorization


APA and other behavioral science organizations made progress recently in convincing legislators that the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate is an integral part of the National Science Foundation (NSF). This had been particularly critical following the release of the House Budget Resolution in May, which contained language jeopardizing SBE's continuation.

As reported in the last issue of Psychological Science Agenda, SBE's predicament was aggravated by the comments made by Rep. Robert Walker (R-PA), Vice-Chair of the House Budget Committee and Chair of the House Science Committee. Rep. Walker stated at a press conference that "social, behavioral and economic studies" at NSF were fields that NSF had "wandered into . . . [to be] politically correct."

Because the House Science Committee authorizes NSF, these statements provoked an immediate response from the behavioral and social science community. The APA Public Policy Office (PPO) worked closely with the Consortium for Social Science Associations, the Federation of Behavioral, Cognitive and Psychological Sciences, the American Psychological Society, and other organizations to persuade the Committee of SBE's value. PPO efforts included the coordination of Hill visits, the development of and distribution to members of Congress of information supporting SBE, and an extensive grassroots campaign involving APA members in relevant congressional districts.

PPO and Science Directorate efforts, including the hundreds of letters from psychologists to their representatives, helped modify Rep. Walker's position on SBE in the NSF authorization bill, which was marked-up in full Committee on June 28. Rep. Walker did offer an amendment, however, that would limit NSF to six assistant directors (instead of the current seven). The report language that accompanied the legislation strongly encouraged NSF to eliminate SBE (and hence one assistant director) to achieve this goal. However, the language accompanying the NSF appropriations bill, which determines NSF's budget, contained no language detrimental to SBE (see article, p. 1). Although agencies are not bound by report language, they usually pay close attention to it to discern the intent of Congress. The bill must now be approved by the full House, which isn't expected to happen until September.

The Senate will most likely develop its version of the NSF authorization bill in late fall. APA will be working with other behavioral and social science organizations to ensure that the Senate bill does not include any language detrimental to SBE either in the legislation or the report accompanying it. For more information on this issue, contact Elizabeth Baldwin in PPO at eab.apa@emil.apa.org.


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