NSF SBE Advisory Council Meets with New Leadership

Kaye Husbands Fealing, PhD, welcomed members of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences Directorate Advisory Committee (AC) to the June meeting, her first since assuming the role of Assistant Director at the end of April. Husbands Fealing has both worked at NSF previously, as a rotator, and served on AC as well as the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering (CEOSE).  

[Click here for an agenda and here for a list of members] 

In her Director’s update, Dr. Husbands Fealing provided staff updates, reviewed funding trends, and shared priorities and themes for the Directorate. 

David Barker, PhD, will join SBE as the Division Director of the Social and Economic Sciences Directorate starting on August 1. He is a professor at the American University in the School of Public Affairs where he is the Director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. SBE has launched an active search for the SBE Deputy Assistant Director (DAD), with Evan Heith, PhD, currently serving in this role, on loan from the STEM Education Directorate.  

In fiscal year 2024 (FY24), SBE has a budget of $320 million, the NSF topline is $9.06 billion. NSF funds roughly 63 percent of the federal investment in behavior and social science making these disciplines particularly dependent on the smallest NSF Directorate. In 2023 the funding rate dropped compared to 2022. AC members had a robust conversation about the implications of this drop asking such questions as: what do we know about those who are not receiving funding? Are underrepresented communities disproportionately impacted? Have grant amounts grown to keep up with inflation? Setting the stage for the conversation with the NSF Director, members asked about the process for divvying up the Research and Related Activities (R&RA) pot. Is there a careful annual review or more incremental? Are there similar percent increases across directorates driven by specific new initiatives? 

While still settling in to her role, Dr. Husbands Fealing highlighted several recent SBE accomplishments citing engaging early career colleagues, working across disciplines, and broadening participation and contributions to NSF AI activities. She also pointed to the four SBE-funded Waterman Awards since 2018, including Kristina R. Olson, PhD – FABBS Early Career Impact Award for the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. 

Director of the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), Emelda Rivers, PhD, introduced a panel presentation on the National Secure Data Service Demonstration (NSDS) and the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource Pilot (NAIRR): Complementary Resources for the Nation. The vision for NSDS is to develop a cyber infrastructure to make statistical data available to NAIRR users. Noting that NAIRR was not fully funded in fiscal year (FY24), Dr. Sharon Boivin, Research Director walked AC members through the interface and vision for data discovery, shared services and resources, and access and linkage infrastructure. NSDS will provide trainings to users and have a ‘data concierge’ for visitors having trouble finding what they are looking for on the system. It will have a tiered approach to data access to calibrate privacy concerns. 

Committee members received an update on the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Blueprint (See previous FABBS article). Steve Newell, PhD, a primary author of the report, also serves as a Senior Advisor at SBE Directorate. This was an effort of the National Committee on Science and Technology subcommittee on social and behavioral sciences with co-chairs OBSSR and SBE. The report builds on the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking to strengthen the federal reliance on science and technology and a call for increased collaboration inside the government and with outside partners. 

For federal agencies lacking behavioral and social science expertise, the Blueprint showcases key tools and approaches 

  • Understand cause and effect 
  • Evaluate effectiveness, systematically 
  • Drive innovation  
  • Scale solutions   
  • Promote equity  

According to Dr. Newell, the next steps are to amplify and implement the report, stay tuned for how FABBS will actively contribute to these two goals. 

NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan and Chief Operating Officer Karen Marrongelle met with the AC members, expressing their appreciation of and support for the SBE Directorate. In responding to concerns about the NSF budget, NSF leadership assured the AC that there is strong bipartisan for NSF and for science and that NSF is constantly meeting with members of Congress and responding to invitations and questions about NSF. Unfortunately, NSF will feel the consequences of the cuts in FY24, we are likely to fall behind in international competition, and put national security at risk.  

AC members encouraged Drs Panch (as he often introduces himself) and Marrongelle to grow the SBE directorate budget. Dr. Marrongelle acknowledged that SBE saw a dramatic cut over a decade ago and still has not recovered. Both mentioned the challenge of increasing the budget with overall flat funding, they would have to stop funding something else – which is really tough to do, adding that Director’s budget councils are instituting more rigor around the budget process, and transparency around how we develop budgets.