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Return of 'National Interest'

Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has re-introduced his provision to require the National Science Foundation to certify that each study it funds is "in the national interest" as a standalone bill, ScienceInsider reports.

The provision lists seven ways in a project could fulfill that requirement, such as by boosting the economy, helping the scientific workforce, or partnering with industry, ScienceInsider's Jeffrey Mervis says.

Last fall, Smith, who chairs the House science committee, called on NSF to justify a number of its funding decisions. He in particular listed 20 projects — many of which were being conducted outside the US or were funded by the agency's social, behavioral, and economic sciences section — that he deemed to be a waste of money. He has investigated a number of other grants as well.

France Córdova, the director of NSF, has sought to work with Smith and Congress to assuage their concerns. She has, for instance, worked to improve "transparency and accountability" at the agency as well as tell investigators that the impact of their project should be reflected in its title, Mervis says.

But, he says, none of this seems to have changed Smith's mind as he re-introduces this provision as a bill entitled "Scientific Research in the National Interest."

The American Psychological Association's Heather O'Beirne Kelly tells Mervis that Smith has "substituted political review for peer review."

"Chairman Smith has been investigating NSF grants he doesn't like since he became chairman of the committee," adds Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–Texas), who is the top Democrat on the committee. "This legislative effort is very much connected to his effort to impose his own, political level of review on NSF's gold standard merit-review process."