Where does it hurt the most to be stung by a bee? Are Republicans or Democrats more disgusted by eating worms? How many shakes does it take for a dog to dry off?
These are some of the questions posed by the government-funded studies that Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has highlighted in a new report: Twenty Questions: Government Studies That Will Leave You Scratching Your Head.
Flake released the material this week to coincide with legislation he is introducing to “ensure federal research dollars are better directed towards supporting transformative science while rooting out unnecessary spending on lower priority projects.” The bill is known as the Federal Research Transparency and Accountability Act (S. 2915).
Flake was inspired to release the report when he began digging into the National Institutes of Health’s budget and found money spent on research being done to answer questions such as the ones posed above.
According to the report, it is important to ask questions in science, but valid ones must be asked. As the report puts it, “The impact of not spending wisely is not just wasted money, but missed opportunities.”
Flake’s report recommends that the federal government should:
- Set clearly-defined national goals and objectives for federally-funded research projects (Examples could include advancing vaccines and treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and Zika)
- Prioritize the hundreds of billions of dollars of existing federal research funding to best meet those national goals and objectives in a manner strengthens American’s scientific leadership
- Enhance public awareness of government research projects by making the purpose, findings, and cost of each study more accessible to taxpayers
- Improve processes for evaluating funding requests to ensure limited research dollars are not spent on unnecessary or duplicative studies
Flake is not the first lawmaker to argue for more government oversight by highlighting wasteful spending. Former Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) was perhaps best known for this; he released annual “wastebooks” which detailed things the government spent on that it probably shouldn’t have (in the Senator’s opinion at least). See, for example, Administrative Leave for ‘Underperforming’ Feds at Top of Coburn’s Annual Wastebook.
It appears that Senator Jeff Lankford (R-OK) is going to be continuing the tradition as well.