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Federal agencies don't often bite the hands that finance them. But the National Science Board, which sets the agenda for the National Science Foundation, on Thursday criticized Congressional legislation that would slash funding for social and political science research and, it argues, limit the agency's autonomy and ultimately its effectiveness. The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act, as the measure is called, is sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House science committee, and it was motivated by questions from Smith and other lawmakers about the legitimacy and relevance of certain grants.

The measure has generated concern from many scientists and higher education groups. In its statement Thursday, the science board, which is made up of many academic leaders, said the bill would impose burdens on scientists and, by dictating how the agency does and does not spend its money, "significantly impede NSF's flexibility to deploy its funds to support the best ideas."