The National Science Foundation will limit grants for political science research to those dealing with national security and economic policy, a move that has some faculty and administration at Georgetown concerned.

President Obama signed a bill containing the amendment, which was added by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), on March 26 as part of the effort to find a solution to the series of government cutbacks known as the sequester and to keep the federal government from shutting down.

Originally, Coburn intended to completely remove the NSF’s political science funding and cut other resources in order to reallocate $10 million to the National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The cuts would only be in effect until the end of the fiscal year on September 30, and the criteria would only apply to new grants.

Although Georgetown receives less money from the NSF than it does from the NIH, Scott Fleming, associate vice president for federal relations, said that the cuts are still symbolically significant for the university and for those in higher education.

“There are faculty members … who receive National Science Foundation money and it is very important to their activities, so we certainly want to maintain both the maximum available pool of money and minimum restrictions,” Fleming said. “All of us in the academic world find this limitation on the use of National Science Foundation money on certain types of research very troubling.”

In particular, some say that Coburn’s amendment could lead to further spending reductions in other areas of study.

“Today it was political science that got in the crosshairs for somewhat idiosyncratic reasons, but tomorrow it could be certain kinds of economics research,” Michael Bailey, chair of the government department, said. “Taking one senator’s beef with one academic enterprise, it seems kind of a dangerous precedent to whittle away at the autonomy of these academic enterprises to pursue the things that they think are interesting.”

Bailey noted the irony in cutting political science funding amid public concern about governance.

“People are worried about the political system. Left, right and center, you name it, someone’s concerned that the way we make decisions — the way democracy makes decisions — is flawed,” Bailey said. “Everyone thinks there’s huge problems with it, so it seems like not a good time to stop caring about it.”

According to Bailey, no one in the government department currently has an NSF grant, but the agency plays an important role in creating the data infrastructure and empirical work necessary for political science research. However, he noted that the current economic climate has created a challenging environment for academics.

“Certainly there’s a lot of people in Congress who just want to pare back on everything the government does and that would include research funding,” Bailey said. “But if the government doesn’t have the money, it has to stop spending, and these are the kind of places where they have to stop spending.”

Fleming agreed, saying that even though the grant restrictions would reduce research, the situation could have been worse.

“Even though this restriction, this limitation that was put into effect, is troubling, it is less troubling than the money just disappearing completely to fund research,” Fleming said.

However, the university may contend with further cuts when Obama’s budget proposal is released this Wednesday. Fleming said that the discretionary spending portion of the budget, which funds everything from research to road construction, will be something the university will monitor closely.

“I remember once somebody said that legislating is like sausage-making. You don’t like watching the process,” Fleming said. “There is seldom a piece of legislation that comes up that doesn’t have pluses and minuses, and at the end of the day, you have to decide whether the pluses outweigh the minuses.”

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