US Foreign Policy

National Security Programs Supporting Social Science in Academia

in Program

The federal government invests heavily in supporting higher education and academic research in a wide range of disciplines. Much of this funding is channeled through national security-related agencies, particularly the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. These agencies predominantly focus on research in physical science and engineering disciplines, though they also support research in the social sciences. Of the $3.75 billion the national security agencies spent on academia in FY13, likely only tens of millions went to social science.

The following discussion attempts to describe those programs at the national security agencies that provide funding for the social sciences in academia. It is only an initial scan, reliant on publicly available data. It is not based on queries of program managers themselves or the policymakers who oversee the funding and programs of the national security agencies. See Appendix B for a more comprehensive description of our methodology.

Additionally, the programs we identify likely only capture a part of the funding national security agencies provide to social sciences in academia, as available data allowed us to track only the contract spending that was directly awarded to academics. Yet there is reason to believe a significant amount of social science funding flows to academia through a sponsor providing a contract to a practicing academic on a specific question. But if this funding was provided indirectly, through subcontracts, it is essentially invisible under our methodology. Similarly, funding that flowed from other programs, but ended up supporting social science is not captured, and again it is essentially invisible under our methodology. Given the relatively small scale of funding we have identified, this “invisible” funding could equal or even dwarf the acknowledged funding. While this uncertainty makes it hard to definitively characterize national security funding for social sciences it also highlights how little funding is formally organized into discrete programs.

Those programs we did identify can be categorized broadly as either supporting more general, qualitative research or supporting research intended to support formal applications, usually through modeling. There are also a number of other marginal programs. Additionally, any review of US government support to academia must include the National Science Foundation, which we consider separately in Appendix A.

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