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H.R. 3293 (114th): Scientific Research in the National Interest Act

The House passed a bill, originally filed in the House Science Committee, that many critics contend is anti-science.

H.R. 3293, the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act, would require that each National Science Foundation grant “serve the national interest.” Such interests would include improving the economy or supporting national defense, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Millions of dollars the NSF has doled out for purposes he considers less than worthwhile…

Lead sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX21) — chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee — noted the millions of dollars the NSF has doled out for purposes he considers less than worthwhile. “When the NSF funds such projects there is less money to support worthwhile scientific research that keeps our country on the forefront of innovation,” Smith said. In particular, he cited a few examples he considered particularly egregious, including:

  • “$700,000 of taxpayer money to support a climate change-themed musical that quickly closed”
  • “$487,000 to study the Icelandic textile industry during the Viking era”
  • “$516,000 to help amateurs create a video game to ‘Relive Prom Night’”
“Members of Congress lack the relevant expertise to fairly evaluate the merits or value of any particular grant”

However, the committee’s ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX30) called the bill anti-science and anti-innovation.

She wrote, “Most Members of Congress lack the relevant expertise to fairly evaluate the merits or value of any particular grant… If we do not trust the Nation’s scientific experts to make that judgement on whether a scientific grant is worthy of funding or not, then who are we to trust?” Johnson also noted that the NSF already has a rigorous review process, only funding about one-fifth of grant proposals.

Current status of the bill

The bill passed the House 236 to 178 on a nearly party-line vote. Only four Republicans voted no: Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL26), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL27), Bob Dold (R-IL10), and Richard Hanna (R-NY22). Only seven Democrats voted yes: Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ9), Jim Costa (D-CA16), Alan Grayson (D-FL9), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL3), Brad Ashford (D-NE2), Henry Cuellar (D-TX28), and Collin Peterson (D-MN7).

The White House’s position

The White House has threatened to veto the bill if it passes the Senate.

“Contrary to its stated purpose, [it] would add nothing to accountability in Federal funding for scientific research, while needlessly adding to bureaucratic burdens and overhead at the NSF,” the White House wrote. “And, far from promoting the progress of science in the United States, it would replace the clarity of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 with confusing language that could cast a shadow over the value of basic research which, by its nature, will have outcomes with contributions to national interests other than the progress of science which cannot be predicted in advance.“

John P. Holdren, Director of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, argued that research without an immediately obvious national interest could still yield one down the line.

“Who would have initially predicted, for example, that genomic studies of nematode worms would lead to the discovery of genes that control cell death and, in turn, to new treatment possibilities for cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease?” Holdren wrote. “Or that the quest to understand atomic physics would lead to the development of the atomic clocks that now enable the highly precise Global Positioning System (GPS) on which so many Americans rely?”

Last updated Feb 24, 2016. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Feb 10, 2016.


Scientific Research in the National Interest Act

(Sec. 2) This bill directs the National Science Foundation (NSF) to award federal funding for basic research and education in the sciences through a new research grant or cooperative agreement only if it makes an affirmative determination, justified in writing, that the grant or agreement promotes the progress of science in the United States, is worthy of federal funding, and meets certain other criteria.

The bill declares that such a determination shall be made after a research grant or cooperative agreement proposal has first satisfied the NSF's reviews for Merit and Broader Impacts.