The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Thursday released the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014, its bill to reauthorize programs at the National Science Foundation and other federal science agencies. The bill was sponsored by six Senate Democrats – committee chair John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia; Dick Durbin, Illinois; Bill Nelson, Florida; Mark Pryor, Arkansas; Chris Coons, Delaware; and Ed Markey of Massachusetts. According to a “discussion draft” provided to Federations of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences and others last week, the bill would authorize substantial increases in NSF funding over the next five years, from $7.6 billion in FY 2015 to $9.9 billion in FY 2019. NSF funding currently stands at approximately $7.2 billion. In addition, the draft bill specifically highlights the contributions of social and behavioral sciences:
“The Foundation’s investments in social, behavioral, and economic research have addressed challenges, including—
(a) in medicine, matching organ donors to patients, leading to a dramatic growth in paired kidney transplants;
(b) in policing, implementing predictive models that help to yield significant reductions in crime;
(c) in resource allocation, developing theories underlying the Federal Communications Commission spectrum auction, which has generated over $60,000,000,000 in revenue;
(d) in disaster preparation and recovery, identifying barriers to effective disaster evacuation strategies;
(e) in national defense, assisting U.S. troops in cross-cultural communication and in identifying threats;
(f) in areas such as economics, education, cybersecurity, transportation, and the national defense, supporting informed decision-making in foreign and domestic policy…”
Rockefeller is retiring this year and wanted to craft a strong COMPETES bill that would lay a foundation for the next five years and help position U.S. science for the future.
A release from the committee quotes Rockefeller:
“To make sure America continues to lead the world in research, we must provide support for the institutions and agencies at the center of American innovation. The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014 supports a wide-range of critical research, while also advancing STEM education and working to put our best research results into the marketplace. Our bill makes it clear that the U.S. is committed not only to investing in research, but also togetting our students excited about STEM so that America can continue to lead the world in innovation.”
According to the Senate committee …
The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014 builds on the goals and successes of the America COMPETES Act of 2007 and its reauthorization in 2010. The Senators’ bill would authorize stable and sustained increases in federal research and development (R&D) funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The bill would also promote the economic benefits of promising R&D and address agency efforts, including at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to increase participation in STEM fields, including among women and minorities.
Recognizing the need for long-term investments in science and technology, Congress passed the first America COMPETES Act in 2007 and reauthorized it in 2010. The Acts aimed to significantly increase investments in key federal research and development (R&D) activities; to advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; and to support the innovation necessary for economic growth. COMPETES remains essential today. In 2013, more than 70 organizations representing business, higher education, and scientific communities signed onto “Guiding Principles” to inform a COMPETES reauthorization and reiterated the importance of basic research investments as a top national priority.
According to Committee staff, the bill will likely be marked up by the full Committee in September. However, the bill is not likely to see action on the Senate floor in this Congress. Still, the Senate COMPETES bill signals strong support for science, including the social and behavioral sciences.
It stands in contrast to a House bill to reauthorize NSF that most in the science community opposed and that cut authorized funding for NSF’s SBE Directorate by 42 percent. The Frontiers in Innovation, Science, and Technology, or FIRST, act would reauthorize funding for the NSF for the current and next fiscal years. The bill is sponsored by Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. FIRST passed the full committee and awaits action on the House floor.
Given the limited time left on the legislative calendar for this Congress, as well as competing priorities, NSF reauthorization may have to wait.
Meanwhile, Congress must wrap up a spending plan for next fiscal year by September 30. At the end of this week, Congress leaves for a five-week recess. Upon their return in September, Congress is expected to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund federal government programs through the election and likely into December.
The CR will provide some time to negotiate an omnibus bill for FY 2015. Starting positions will likely be the bills that have passed either body or, in their absence, committees. For NSF, the House passed legislation providing a 3.3 percent increase to the agency, while also avoiding cuts to the SBE Directorate. The Senate Appropriations Committee, in comparison, provided a 1.16 percent increase for NSF, but the bill was pulled from the Senate floor, reportedly due to disagreement over how amendments would be handled. Prior to Senate floor action, however, Senator Tom Coburn filed an amendment, similar to one passed in FY 2013, that would place restrictions on any political science research funded by NSF.
Neither chamber has passed a bill to fund NIH; however, the Senate Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Committee approved a bill that would provide a 2 percent increase for NIH for FY 2015. The increase, combined with the $1billion increase in FY 2014, would fully restore NIH’s sequestration cut. The House has not acted on a bill to fund NIH.
With the upcoming elections, Congress will likely be eager to pass a “clean” CR in September. For the time being, it appears that the social and behavioral sciences will be able to survive the threatened cuts.