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The Association of American Universities, a group of the nation’s leading research institutions, on Monday criticized an inquiry by the U.S. House science committee into specific National Science Foundation grants. The panel, led by Republican Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, has been requesting information from the NSF about specific grants the agency awarded through its peer review process. Smith has long criticized some NSF research grants as an example of unnecessary or wasteful government spending. Earlier this year, he led efforts in the House to pass new restrictions on how the NSF could fund social science research, a singling out of that discipline that was widely criticized among academic researchers.  It also drew a rare critique by the National Science Board.

Tensions between the scientific research community and the House committee have escalated again recently, as committee staffers have been poring over individual NSF grant applications.

The AAU said in a statement that while Congress needs to provide “constructive oversight” of agencies like the NSF, the Science committees current inquiry “is having a destructive effect on NSF and on the merit review process that is designed to fund the best research and to remove those decisions from the political process.”

“If the committee wishes to override the merit review process or if it wants NSF to stop funding research related to certain issues, its members owe it to the American public to say clearly what they are doing: substituting their judgment for the expertise of scientists on the vital question of what research the United States should support,” the statement continues. “The long history of success at NSF in making U.S. science the best in the world would be undermined by such a change.”