Congress cuts political science research

Federal funding for political science research was partly eliminated in March.

by Rebecca Harrington


At a time when research funding is hard to come by, political science researchers will find it even harder.

The U.S. Congress passed an amendment to the budget bill banning the National Science Foundation from funding political science research unless it’s focused on national security or the economy.

Because the NSF is the largest funder of political science research, many believe the amendment could have a serious effect on the discipline nationwide. The agency funds about $11 million in political science research per year, according to the journal Science.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., sponsored the bipartisan amendment in the Senate along with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

The Senate passed the amendment March 20. The House passed all of the Senate’s amendments to the bill the next day.

Minnesota’s eight Representatives were split on the Senate’s amendments. The Senate voted by a voice vote, so their votes were not recorded. The offices of U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar did not respond to requests for comment.

The University of Minnesota’s political science department received $270,000 in research funding in fiscal year 2012. Raymond Duvall, professor and department chair, said the amendment is “distressing.”

“This legislation is a real setback for us,” he said, “for the discipline and for faculty here at the University of Minnesota in this discipline.”

Although the amendment wasn’t a surprise because political science has been on the research chopping block for a few years, Duvall said other social sciences might be defunded next.

Channing Riggs, director of University Federal Relations, said because the University is involved in so many different kinds of research, it has some “vulnerable areas.”

“It’s easy to stand up on the floor of Congress and say, ‘Can you believe we’re funding this?’” she said. “So I think that we just all have to be on our toes as much as possible.”

Political science professor Howard Lavine currently has an NSF grant proposal under review that might not be funded now.

Although Congress has considered cutting funding for the discipline before, Lavine said he didn’t think they would actually do it.

“I never gave it any consideration,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be defunded.”

But he wasn’t surprised, either. Lavine said he thinks Congress targeted political science in part because “they don’t want their own behavior to be scrutinized.” Duvall agreed it was a “very political move” to keep researchers from studying Congress.

Riggs said the amendment was an “attack” on the peer review process that research undergoes to get funded, approved and published. By Congress deciding to defund this particular discipline, she said it prevents professionals at the NSF from deciding for themselves.

Next, the law will go to the director of the NSF for implementation, and she can decide how the agency will interpret it. Riggs said this process could be an opportunity for the public to comment on their opinion of the amendment.

For Lavine, that means a few months of waiting to find out if his research can be funded or not.

“It is certainly a real impediment for the discipline here and elsewhere,” he said. “I certainly hope the funding gets restored.”