Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has federal research advocates up in arms over a new proposal that would change the peer-review process for judging grant applications at all federal agencies and alter the structure of a leading agency.
The legislation would add two new members to peer-review panels that evaluate applications for federal funding. The changes include:
1) at least one individual who is not professionally affiliated with any academic or research institution ... and is an expert in a field unrelated to the field of research under which the grant proposal was submitted; and
2) at least one individual who shall serve primarily as a “taxpayer advocate” (defined as someone whose main focus is on the value proposed research delivers to the taxpayer).
The bill would also shift the responsibilities of the National Science Foundation's Office of Inspector General to a new government entity that would randomly select federal grants for review to determine if the research will “deliver value to the taxpayers.”
While these proposed changes would provide some basic checks and balances on these federal agencies, critics from the swamp contend that the legislation would politicize federal funding of research projects.
Sean Gallagher, a senior government relations officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, argues that experts are best fit to assess the value of research proposals.
Likewise, Henry Reichman, a committee chair of the American Association of University Professors, adds that there would be nothing to prevent “taxpayer advocates” from “serving the bidding of moneyed special interests.”
Despite their concerns, the system is broken and is in desperate need of accountability. Paul has frequently cited examples of wasteful research, including NSF grants to study Ugandan gambling habits and another study that involved shrimp on a treadmill. This bill would simply give taxpayers a voice in the process.
“There’s a lot of bizarre stuff that everybody agrees should not be going on,” Paul noted. “And if you don’t fix it, the danger is that people [in Congress] will get tired and there won’t be any more money for research.”
Brendan Pringle (@BrendanPringle) is a freelance journalist in California. He is a National Journalism Center graduate and formerly served as a development officer for Young America's Foundation at the Reagan Ranch.