By Craig Covello
May 31, 2011
If you're unfamiliar with the organization, here's a brief synopsis taken from a 73 page report published by Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn last month entitled "The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope".
“(It was ) created by the National Science Foundation Act of 1950.5 Specifically, NSF’s mission is “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; and to secure the national defense.” As an independent federal agency, NSF operates independently of any other agency and only under the eye of the President. The NSF‘s director is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate to a six-year term. The agency’s policies are decided by a 24-member National Science Board that meets six times per year. Currently, NSF has about 2,100 employees at its Arlington, Virginia headquarters.”
Yes, NSF funds approximately 20 percent of all federally-supported basic research conducted by United States colleges and universities and 60 percent of all non-biomedical life science research, so it might seem that celebrating the 60th anniversary of the National Science Foundation is a good thing. After all, they often tout their accomplishments, which according to NSF, include:
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Retinal implant research
But despite this organization's high-profile resume, dark financial clouds are gathering on the horizon. NSF says it needs more money to supplement its $6.9 billion annual budget. In response, Pres. Obama has proposed a $1 billion 13 percent increase, even though our nation is in the midst of a prolonged financial mess and staggering $14 trillion debt. Do you agree with the president's judgment? Before you answer, perhaps you should know some of the facts contained in Sen. Coburn's report. I'll spare you reading all 73 pages by paraphrasing much of the content and tone.
Based upon the facts listed above, its not a stretch to conclude that the agency is grossly mismanaged. Perhaps that's par for some federal agencies, but there's a difference between gross mismanagement and blatant fraud. Here are some examples NFS's darker side:
"One senior NSF executive spent at least 331 days looking at pornography on his government computer .... The senior executive explained “that these young women are from poor countries and need to make money to help their parents and this site helps them do that.”
Playing devil's advocate, one could argue that these are strictly anecdotal examples of inappropriate behavior that might be found in any large-scale organization. Looking to the greater good, you could make the argument that selective instances of workplace fraud and abuse should not interrupt or discouraged other important research work. Well, here are some examples of that important work:
If you believe the content of Sen. Coburn's report, it becomes painfully
obvious that the National Science Foundation is rife with fiscal mismanagement as well as egregious
fraud at the employee, contractor and university levels. It also
appears that there are countless examples of wasted grant money used to fund nonsensical research masquerading under the banner of "science".
In response, Sen. Coburn made several
common-sense recommendations, including the need for monetary audits, consistent grant guidelines, agency objectives and verifiable metrics. Perhaps that's a start, but the pessimist in me doubts if any of this will be taken seriously by the Obama administration or America's intellectual education community.
The rest of us, however, should take this very seriously, particularly in light of liberal demagoguery vilifying any group or politician attempting to balance the Federal budget. Look no further than the commercial of a wheelchair-bound grandmother being pushed off a cliff by Republicans. They would have you believe that the government will shut down if taxes are not increased. Washington progressives will threaten that health care cannot be delivered unless bureaucrats are given unlimited power to spend this nation into bankruptcy. Both propositions are ridiculous. The truth is that adult-supervised fiscal management is precisely what's needed now that intellectual adolescents and community organizers have taken over the White House. We have a $14 trillion national debt. Let's not spent $300,000 to study how humans ride bicycles, unless of course the White House believes that very soon we will no longer be able to afford cars.
And speaking of intellectual adolescents, you might remember the movie Ghostbusters. There was a memorable exchange between Dr. Venkman, played by Bill Murray, and Dr. Stanz, played by the equally brilliant comedic actor and writer Dan Aykroyd. In that scene, both had just lost their university science grant and were being kicked off campus-
You're always so worried about your reputation. We don't need the University. Einstein did his best stuff while he was working as a patent clerk.'They can't stop progress.
(not cheered) Do you know what a patent clerk makes? I liked the University. They gave us money, they gave us the facilities and we didn't have to produce anything! I've worked in the private sector. They expect results. You've never been out of college. You don't know what it's like out there.
No need to elaborate. I think that just about sums it up.
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