6/10 NSF update (fwd from COGDOP)

Anthro-l Listowners & JWA Editors (ANTOWNER@UBVM.BITNET)
Tue, 20 Jun 1995 09:58:07 EDT

Date sent: Sat, 10 Jun 1995 09:44:03 EDT
Send reply to: COGDOP Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology
From: "Alan G. Kraut" <AKRAUT@BITNIC.CREN.NET>
Organization: American Psychological Society
Subject: 6/10 NSF update
To: Multiple recipients of list COGDOP <COGDOP@UKCC.UKY.EDU>

June 10, 1995

Dear Colleagues,

The latest on NSF: This past week, a coalition of us
representing many social/behavioral science organizations began
meeting systematically with House staff for NSF authorizations
and appropriations. The good news is that the issue of cutting
or eliminating NSF's social and behavioral directorate is not the
larger issue some feared, though a few (important) committee
staff continue to discuss it. These primarily are associated
with Rep. Robert Walker, the Science Committee chair who
originally voiced concerns over alleged "political correctness"
of the NSF social science portfolio. The reactions of many
others ranged from unaware (many) to supportive of our view
(fewer) with much in between. We came away with the sense that
the issue would be handled by a relative handful of staff, some
who would like nothing better for it to go away. That is, this
is a tiny issue that they hope will not become a stumbling block
to NSF funding, and they would like to give NSF its traditional
flexibility on what to fund. We heard this from both Democrats
and Republicans, and authorizations and appropriations staff.

We are left then with what to do with the core few who want to
deliberately eliminate us? It really comes down to 1-2 staff who
have Walker's ear. In fact, when Walker is out of ear-shot, he
may not feel so strongly. One report heard from several this
week is that in a meeting with Walker, Gingrich, and House
Appropriations Subcommittee chairs, the consensus was to try and
protect research throughout the budget, specifically including
social and behavioral science research. But this does not jive
with other reports of Walker continuing to repeat his 'political
correctness' mantra.

NSF Director Neal Lane and Deputy Anne Petersen met with Walker
on 6/7. I think they felt better after the meeting, but much
still is not clear. Walker seems persuaded that a lot of
social/behavioral science research is fine, but there also is a
lingering belief that some is ideological and that the NSF
Directorate, itself, may be a factor in promoting this type of
research. This should be part of an ongoing discussion that NSF
leaders hope will continue to be informal rather than
legislative, but no promises were made.

In an interview between Walker and a Washington science writer
later that afternoon, I am told that Walker backed off
considerably on statements about cutting behavioral/social
science research to the point of saying that NSF should retain
its flexibility on deciding what it funds. However, Walker's
concern over the social and behavioral science administrative
structure remained.

Also that same day, House staff met with social and behavioral
science staff at NSF for a briefing. Much of it focussed on the
history of forming the social and behavioral science Directorate
and on how budget allocations and priorities are made. I think
both House and NSF staff thought it went very well.

On other fronts, we have picked up more support from outside the
behavioral/social science community. Former NSF Director Erich
Block has written a strong letter ("Indeed, NSF-supported social
and behavioral research are the textbook case for basic research
-- valuable work which the private sector cannot be expected to
fund because of its high risk and broad benefit.") The Council
of Scientific Society Presidents (over 60 mainly
physical/mathematical/biological groups) also sent Walker a
strong letter and one of their leaders spoke personally with
Walker on our behalf. (Both letters, along with others,
available from me by request.)

There was one large disappointment this week. Late friday, our
same coalition met with National Academy of Sciences President
Bruce Alberts and five NAS higher-ups to ask for public support.
What we got were reasons why the Academy had to be cautious,
including that they couldn't afford to embarrass Walker (as if we
were asking), there is still a long time to go in the
Congressional process (as if we didn't know), and events are
changing all the time (except, it seems, at the Academy). Walker
even had been at the Academy the day before our meeting and our
issue was not raised. All of us agreed our meeting was anything
but satisfying. It should be a lessen to us that as much as we
appreciate and value the help of others, the future of our
Directorate at NSF is ultimately up to us.

The House subcommittee for NSF Authorizations is scheduled for
June 14. At this point, it does not look like there will be a
move there to treat social/behavioral science any differently
than others sciences. A draft bill circulating now confirms
that. This is good, but was expected. Our concerns are more at
the Full Committee (where Walker is chair) and beyond.