Coburn Amendment

On March 20, 2013, the U.S. Senate approved an amendment offered by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, which would severely restrict National Science Foundation funding for research in political science. In response, the Executive Committee of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies has issued the following statement of concern:

The Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies strongly opposes the Senate appropriations amendment (SA 65, modified) that bars the National Science Foundation from funding research projects in political science except those that the NSF can certify “as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.” Insertion of such narrowly-defined criteria into the research agenda undermines the political independence of scholarly research.

While we recognize the importance of research that promotes national security, we believe that the amendment misconstrues what constitutes valuable scientific inquiry and gravely compromises the autonomy and intellectual integrity of the National Science Foundation. What seems insignificant to the national interest today may become vitally important tomorrow—and indeed this is why independent political science research on long-run trends is so valuable.

We contend that it is, in fact, in the national interest that the National Science Foundation be able to maintain its intellectual independence.  NSF has a well-established and respected peer-review process by which the agency reviews grant proposals.  NSF should be given the autonomy necessary to assure the production of objective and credible scientific knowledge without political interference.

The political scientists in our organization study diverse governance regimes around the world and the amendment (and possible precedents that it sets) puts us in a hypocritical position when justifying our research abroad.  If American political scientists are told that study of public opinion of the Senate is not in the “national interest” or can be ascertained by watching cable news, how are our scholars to justify the significance of similar research topics to their counterparts or government officials in the former Soviet nations?  If we abandon our long tradition of nonpartisan support for research on domestic political themes, this is likely to undermine our nation’s influence in countries that routinely suppress independent political research.

We urge Congress to reconsider this amendment and fund the NSF Political Science Program without these political restrictions.  The amendment threatens to eliminate an entire field of academic inquiry, jeopardizing its scholarly capacity in the future—and that is in fact a threat to “national security.”

 Also read the statement from the American Political Science Association.