House Once Again Attacks NSF's SBE Directorate

During a rancorous session in April, the House Science Committee marked up legislation that, once again, seeks to eliminate the National Science Foundatin's (NSF) Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate. The Omnibus Civilian Science Authorization Act of 1996 would authorize several federal science agencies, including NSF, and was approved along party lines (Republicans for, Demoncrats against). Title I of the bill provides a total authorization of $3.25 billion for NSF, which is $75 million below the President's request of $3.325 billion ofr NSF, which is $75 million below the President's request of $3.325 billion for 1997. In addition to reducing the spending levels requested by the President, the bill also contained language limiting NSF to six scientific directorates--it currently has seven. In report language that accompanied the bill, the Committee urged NSF to consider SBE as a candidate for elimination.

The report also contained a sizable section on dissenting views, which was written by the minority (Democrats) and objected to the elimination of SBE. Rep. Bud Cramer (D-AL) offered an amendment at mark-up that would have removed the limitation on the number of directorates, but the amendment lost in Committee on a party line vote (Republicans against, Democrats for).

The bill went to the House floor for a vote and was approved on May 30, following 2 days of debate. There were many amendments offered, but only a few that were sponsored by Republican Members were approved. Although there was again an attempt to strike the language limiting NSF to six research directorates, it did not pass.

Although bad news for the behavioral and social science community, this bill is almost identical to the one passed by the House last year. The Senate has indicated that it is very unlikely to take up an NSF authorization bill this year, so NSF (and many other civilian science agencies) will probably operate without an authorization. In the 1980s, NSF found itself in a similar situation when two Senate committees disagreed on who had jurisdiction over NSF. For more information, contact Elizabeth Baldwin in the Public Policy Office.

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