Congress Questions $700,000 Spend of Taxpayer Funds on Musical

The National Science Foundation (NSF) spent $700,000 in taxpayer funds on a musical about climate change, leading to questions by members of Congress about the value provided by congressional funding of the NSF.

Lamar Smith, a Republican Representative from Texas and the chairman of the House Science Committee, led a hearing last week to review spending by the NSF.  In that hearing, Smith questioned John Holdren, the senior advisor to the White House on science and technology, about how the NSF was spending taxpayer funds.  The questions included discussion of “The Great Immensity,” the musical paid for by the NSF.

“The Great Immensity” is considered a thriller about the search for a nature show employee who disappeared while on assignment.  The musical explores questions about climate change and the creative team’s belief about positive steps people should take for the planet.

“I support basic research, which can lead to discoveries that change our world, expand our horizons, and save lives,” said Smith.  “But NSF has funded too many questionable research grants.  Spending taxpayer dollars to fund a climate change musical called ‘The Great Immensity’ sounds more like a waste of taxpayer dollars—money that could have funded higher priority research.”

“All government employees and their agency heads need to remember they are accountable to the American taxpayer who pays their salary and funds their projects,” continued Smith.  “It is not the government’s money; it is the people’s money.”

NSF Defends Spending of Taxpayer Funds on Musical

The NSF released a statement in which they acknowledged and defended funding of the musical.

“The Civilians… theatre company developed an innovative, out-of-the-box approach to exposing U.S. citizens to science,” read the statement from the NSF.  “The project represents the unique cultural leverage of theater in its attempt to inspire the public’s imagination and curiosity about basic science and its relation to their everyday lives.”

“This venture, like other more traditional NSF-funded informal science education projects, aims to educate through a focus on understanding the scientific method, its applications, and its unique ability to extract knowledge about our complex natural world,” continued the statement.  “It presents the pursuit of fundamental knowledge through basic research in a neutral manner that does not advocate any position regarding climate change or conservation research.”

The $700,000 spent by the NSF to fund the climate-themed musical was the largest of several expenditures questioned by Smith.  Other expenditures included the following:

  • $340,000 to study how the use of fire by the first inhabitants of New Zealand impacted the locate climate
  • $200,000 to study the Bronze Age
  • $50,000 to review lawsuits filed in Peru in the 17th century
  • $20,000 to study the causes of stress in Bolivia
  • $15,000 to study fishing in Lake Victoria, a lake that covers portions of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda in Africa

The funding of these and other projects by the NSF are the latest criticism of President Obama’s administration on science grants and other research.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has received criticism of late for attempting to expand its powers to cover streams and small bodies of water on private property.  In addition, the EPA gained negative attention recently for threatening a Wyoming farmer with a $75,000 a day fine related to a pond he built on his private property.

“The Administration’s willful disregard for public accountability distracts from the important issues of how America can stay ahead of China, Russia, and other countries in the highly-competitive race for technological leadership,” said Smith.

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by Mark Johnston

Mark has been a contributor to legal web sites related to bankruptcy, tax, and criminal law since 2011. He has an Accounting degree from Texas A&M University.