It is no secret that most government bureaucracies waste significant amounts of taxpayer funds every year. According to a recent Senate investigative report, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is no excecption. But first, some background on the NSF:
– The NSF is an independent government agency that was created as a result of the National Science Foundation Act back in the 1950.
– The mission of the Foundation is “to promote the progress of science, to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare, and to secure the national defense.
– The Foundation operates independently, reporting only to the President, who names the Foundation’s director and who needs to be confirmed by the Senate.
– The director serves a six year term and heads up a 24 member National Science Board that meets six times a year.
– It was created to help the United States remain a front runner in the field of scientific development after World War II. It was supposed to be the single government agency responsible to conduct and fund basic science research.
Throughout its sixty year existence, the NSF claims to have been instrumental in many scientific areas that made our lives better or easier:
– NSF claims that Internet technology began with government funded networking projects that included the NSFNET and that by the mid 1980s, NSF was the primary financial supporter of the Internet.
– The NSF claims to have been instrumental, in partnership with Google and IBM, in the development of Cloud Computing research and development.
– NSF funding was important in the development of packaging bar codes, going back to the 1970s.
– The NSF claims that it supported research which led ot the development of MRI technology.
– In 1985, NSF researchers developed “buckyballs,” a form of carbon composed clusters, that can be used to help diagnose, treat, and prevent serious illnesses.
These accomplishments come from the NSF itself, as documented in a recently released report from Senate investigators. Fine accomplishments, all of them, and probably the many others that are not listed here.
However, the Senate report, while respective of the past breakthroughs, was not very kind to the NSF today in three areas: research for non-primary projects, lack of tracking research dollars and efforts, and wasteful spending and administration of taxpayer money. According to the report, the NSF spent taxpayer money in the past and currently on the following projects:
– How to ride a bike.
– When did dogs become man’s best friend?
– Are political views genetically determined?
– How to improve the quality of wine.
– Do boys like to play with trucks and girls like to play with dolls?
– How rumors get started.
– Do parents choose trendy baby names?
– When is the best time to buy a ticket to a sporting event?
– How much housework does a husband create for his wife?
– A virtual recreation of the 1964/1965 World’s Fair.
– Sponsorship of a YouTube rap video.
– A review of event ticket prices on Stub Hub.
– What motivates people to make political donations.
– How politicians use the Internet.
– The impact of YouTube on the 2008 U.S. elections.
– A study to determine if playing Farmville helps adults develop and maintain relationships.
– A study on why the same college basketball teams seem to dominate March Madness.
– A study on whether or not online dating site users are racist in their dating habits.
In a time of record budget deficits, do we really want to spend our limited taxpayer dollars on these kinds of research projects? In these days of $4.00 gas prices, do we really want to spend our limited taxpayer dollars on Farmville research? In these days of terrorism, do we really want to spend our limited tax payer dollars on anything related to the 1964/1965 World’s Fair?
Did neither the Director or any of his 24 member Board know what was going on and what was being funded or did they actually think these were good expenditures? If they did not know what was going on, they should be fired for dereliction of duty. If they did know what was going on relative to these projects, they need to be fired for dereliction of duty and wasting taxpayer money.
The second area of waste and inefficiencies was relative the tracking of research projects:
– According to the Senate investigation, the NSF “lacks adequate oversight of its grant funding, which has led to significant mismanagement, fraud, and abuse.”
– Internal reports and audits identified various types of mismanagement which resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars being lost to ineffective contracting.
– Rather than being the single government entity responsible for scientific research, the NSF is one of at least 15 Federal departments, 72 Federal agencies, and 12 independent Federal agencies that engage in research and development. These multiple agencies lead to extensive mismanagement, fraud, inefficiencies, and duplication.
– The Senate investigation into these multiple research agencies found there was at least $65 million wasted on low priority projects (see list above), $19 million lost to outright fraud, $1.2 billion wasted because of duplication, and another $1.9 billion wasted because of other forms of mismanagement.
– The Federal Office Of Inspector General (IG) found that the NSF does not have a good process or track record in overseeing how taxpayer money is spent by the grantees receiving it.
– The IG found that many NSF researchers and grantees fail to submit final and annual reports of progress as required, with a 2005 audit calculating that approximately 47% of the 151,000 required project reports were submitted late or never at all.
– Although the NSF has a policy that prevents a researcher getting new NSF funding if the previous project’s final report has not been submitted, the audit found that almost 13% of researchers who did not submit a final report did indeed receive new grant money.
– The IG concluded that while the NSF has tried to improve its management processes, “the IG believes that grant oversight remains as an ongoing management challenge at NSF.” In other words, it still stinks.
– And the most damning opinion of all comes from a well know science policy analyst, Daniel Sarwwitz. He is quoted in the Senate report as saying: “The NSF and other civilian research agencies lack the attributes necessary for success, including a focused mission.”
Wow, not only does the NSF spend and waste taxpayer money on silly, unimportant projects, it obviously does not know how to manage the billions and billions of dollars it gives out to its approved researchers, leading to fraud, duplication, mismanagement, and total, total wasted resources.
But there’s more! Consider how poorly the agency is operated from an administrative perspective outside of its bungling of research efforts:
– The report documented that some NSF employees were spending more time searching the Internet for pornography on the job than actually doing their job. One senior NSF employee was found to have spent at least 331 days looking at pornography on his government computer and chatting online with nude or partially clad women.
– These escapades by just this one NSF employee cost the American taxpayer between $13,800 and $58,000.
– In total, in the past year, ten NSF employees have had misconduct cases brought against them and seven of the ten were for pornography surfing on the job.
– The administrative misuse at the NSF has become so bad that the IG could not even estimate how much money was lost to these types of behavior.
– Not to be outdone by simple Internet pornography surfing, an NSF employee was fired when he organized a jello wrestling event at the NSF’s Antarctic research station. These jello wrestling employees were supposed to be looking after the $451 million annual investment the NSF has in Antarctica.
– A pair of NSF employees who were romantically involved were found to have fraudulently run up $144,152 in expenses as a result of their 47 trips taken together.
– Audits found that millions of dollars were misspent on alcohol and other unauthorized, non-research costs.
So, in summary, according to the Senate’s investigation, the NSF wastes billions of taxpayer dollars on inane projects that hold no benefit to the American public, they cannot track or adequately document the results of the money they spend on all research projects, and administratively, we have an organization that is out of control when it comes to focusing on research and spending money on its mission. Instead, money, resources and time are spent on pornography, jello wrestling, romancing on the NSF’s budget, and alcohol.
What a disgrace. And it gets still worse. According to the Senate report, Congress recently passed a bill that would DOUBLE the NSF’s funding over the next seven years. Thus, rather than wasting much of its current $6.9 billion budget every year, the NSF, if no one gets the foundation under control, will soon waste much of its $14 billion of its budget in the near future.
As a country heading quickly towards bankruptcy, we can no longer afford this type of wasteful incompetence. To help reduce govenrment spending, an important step in this effort would be a complete ground up audit of all government entities like the NSF. This audit would lead to a complete overhaul of all of its administrative and operations processes, and accountability pushed onto its director and 24 Board members who obviously have not been doing their job in running an effective and efficient scientific research agency.
Included in this ground up approach would be a serious attempt to get back to the original intent of the NSF, where it was the single government research agency. No longer would there be dozens of Federal departments and agencies doing scientific research, these organizations would be downsized, consolidated, and the cost savings passed back to the taxpayer.
Another major improvement in this area would be the refocusing of the NSF only on the pertinent issues of our times. The NSF research, and any government research at this time, should be focused only on health care improvements, national defense/anti-terror technologies, alternative energy development, education improvement, and drug abuse treatment.
If the Federal government could make substantial, effective, and efficient gains only in these areas of scientific concern, then the American public would probably be more than willing to forego research, and tax dollars spent on Farmville, baby names, and the other inane wastes listed above.