NSF criticized at U.S. Senate hearing about innovation

Should National Science Foundation grants be tied to how well universities work with industry?  During a June 22nd U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on innovation, Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, criticized the NSF’s approach to funding research.

“NSF is almost exclusively focused on providing funding for scientific research to universities and makes little effort to ensure that these results are commercialized and lead to jobs in the United States,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson suggested that Congress should require the NSF to evaluate grants based on how well universities work with industry.

In recent years, Congress has charged NSF to do more to foster innovation.  Most recently, the U.S. House passed the America COMPETES act with a provision that would require the NSF to set aside 5 percent of grant funding for high-risk, high-reward research.

But tying individual grants to the ability of the grantee’s institution to turn research into products is likely to be controversial among basic researchers, and it is likely to threaten the traditionally basic-science focus of the NSF.

The hearing was held by the Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation and Export Promotion of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.  Testimony and the hearing webcast are available on the committee’s website.

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