Washington and Social Science: News Bulletin


Starting this month Social Science Space will begin offering monthly updates on U.S. government actions that affect the social and behavioral sciences.
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NSF Reauthorization Legislation Likely in the House

Social Science news bulletinSources have learned that, in the coming weeks, the U.S. House or Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology intends to introduce and “mark-up” legislation reauthorizing the National Science Foundation (NSF).  In the 114th Congress (2015-2016), the Science Committee approved a broader, controversial “America COMPETES” Reauthorization bill, which would have reallocated funds from the NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences and Geosciences directorates to the other directorates focusing on the physical, chemical, biological and computer sciences. This legislation was approved by the House in 2015, but never advanced in the Senate. Instead, House and Senate negotiators were able to agree to a smaller measure, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA), which included some non-controversial provisions that Republicans and Democrats could agree upon. The AICA was signed into law in December, but the bill included no authorization of spending at the NSF.

On March 9, the Science Committee held a hearing to provide a broad overview of the NSF, primarily for the committee’s new members to learn more about the agency, and to discuss the implementation of the newly-enacted provisions of AICA.  During the hearing, full committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, and Research Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski, D-Illinois, stressed the importance of maintaining funding for social and behavioral science research.

A more controversial hearing, tentatively scheduled for March 21, will attempt to set the stage for reauthorization legislation, more likely focusing on specific directorates and specific grants.  The social science community can expect a repeat of the debate on the value of social sciences, and the extent to which specific scientific disciplines should be prioritized at NSF’s research directorates.

ACA Repeal and Social and Behavioral Science

On March 6, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Ways and Means unveiled their legislative proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Both committees commenced their “mark-ups” of their bills for March 8, with the Ways and Means Committee adopting sections of the bill during the early hours of March 9.  Both committees’ sections will then be forwarded to the House Committee on the Budget, where they will be combined into one package and sent to the House floor for consideration. It is the intention of the House to have legislation adopted on the floor before the end of the month.

There are many complexities to the ACA repeal debate, and both sides are using social and behavioral science and data to formulate their positions. For example, the National Women’s Law Center, citing U.S. Census American Community Survey data, demonstrate that a repeal of the ACA and changes to the Medicaid program threaten the health and economic security of 7.8 million women, including 5.1 million women of color, who recently gained insurance coverage.

Also, a study conducted in January by the Pew Research Center found that, “currently, 60% of Americans say the government should be responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans, compared with 38% who say this should not be the government’s responsibility. The share saying it is the government’s responsibility has increased from 51% last year and now stands at its highest point in nearly a decade.”

Meanwhile, and the other side of the debate (favoring repeal), the House Committee on Energy and Commerce just released a compendium of data and analysis resulting from several years of oversight hearings on the ACA:

Impact of ACA repeal on behavioral health

Repeal legislation may also have a significant impact on behavioral health. For example, the ACA defines “essential benefits” that must be provided in the insurance exchanges established by the statute. These include mental health, substance abuse, and behavioral health coverage, and repeal legislation threatens to remove coverage of these benefits for millions of Americans.  For example, a recent Centers for Disease Control report shows that the percentage of adults with serious psychological distress who are uninsured has dropped from 28.1 percent in 2012 to 19.5 percent in the first nine months of 2015.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in the mental health community who thinks withdrawing the Affordable Care Act would be good for behavioral health. It’s hard to even conceive of how that would be true.”

Sherry Glied, dean of New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, who advised the George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama administrations on health policy

ACA repeal and replace legislation will likely dominate the legislative and political landscape for the entire first half of 2017.

Budget and Appropriations Update-When Will They Finish FY17?

Five months into fiscal year 2017, Congress hasn’t even come close to completing the fiscal year 2017 budget. Nearly every federal agency is operating under a “continuing resolution” at fiscal year 2016 levels. The continuing resolution expires on April 28, which means that Congress must either approve the remaining FY17 appropriations bills by then, or pass another continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown.

On February 17, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, instructed the House Committee on Appropriations to begin negotiations with their Senate counterparts on the remaining FY17 appropriations bills. The first of these measures, the FY17 Defense Appropriations Act, was approved on March 8 on the House floor.

To date, no progress has been reported on producing a final FY17 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill, which provides funding for NSF and the U.S. Census.

The lack of progress on the FY17 bills has caused a delay in starting the FY18 budget process. In the coming weeks, the Trump administration is expected to send a “skinny” budget to a Congress with broad proposed funding levels for federal agencies and programs. It is unclear whether a more detailed budget – which includes more details on how dollars are allocated within specific agencies like NSF – will be delivered to Congress later this year.

Controversial American Community Survey Legislation Re-introduced

On March 2, Representative Ted Poe, R-Texas, re-introduced legislation (H.R. 1305) to make participation in the American Community Survey (ACS) “voluntary” instead of the current law requirement that it be mandatory. Administered by the U.S. Census Bureau, the ACS is a nationwide survey of demographic, social, economic, and housing data, and is indispensable for both governments and businesses. Making the ACS response voluntary would significantly reduce response rates and thus impact the integrity of data needed for important public and private planning decisions.

Similar legislation was introduced in the 114th Congress, but was not enacted into law. However, in past years, similar provisions have been adopted during House floor debate as amendments to the annual Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bills.  The issue has in the past gained little traction in the Senate.

The broader issue of collecting and disseminating government data will likely emerge in the 115th Congress. A paper published by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution argues for the importance of government statistics, especially the ACS and the decennial census

Speaking of Data Collection…

Another piece of legislation relating to the ability of the federal government to collect data has been reintroduced in the House and Senate. The Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act (S. 103/H.R. 482) would nullify regulations issued in the Obama administration relating to the Fair Housing Act. The bill would eliminate federal collection of geographic information system (GIS) data about racial disparities and affordable housing, inhibiting the ability of researchers, social scientists, urban planners and others to use maps to visualize numerical GIS data.

S.103 was introduced by Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, is currently before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and is cosponsored by Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida.  H.R. 482 was introduced by Representative Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, and is currently before the House Committee on Financial Affairs. It is currently cosponsored by 24 members of the House (all Republican).

Members of the social and behavioral science community have met with the office of Representative Gosar, whose staff informed that group that the intention of the bill was not to disrupt data collection.  A letter to Gosar is currently circulating, asking the congressman to “clarify the intent of this provision as H.R. 482 proceeds through the legislative process.”

In the News…

On February 22, USA Today published an op-ed by House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, which criticizes specific social science grants funded by NSF.

On February 14, the Boston Globe published an editorial critical of Chairman Smith, calling him a “climate-change-denying Republican from Texas.”  Smith wrote a letter to the editor in response, published on February 28:  l.

On February 27, Computerworld published an interesting article on Chairman Smith’s approach to re-prioritizing funding at the NSF, and the intersection of computer science and social and behavioral science.

Upcoming Hearings and Briefings

On March 9, at 11 A.M. the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology will hold a hearing entitled “National Science Foundation Part 1: Overview and Oversight.”  On March 22, The House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology is tentatively scheduled to hold Part 2 of this hearing.

On March 9, at noon, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology will hold a briefing, “Rare Disease Research: The National Institutes of Health Supports Science that Saves Lives,” in 1310 Longworth House Office Building.  Contact Benjamin Krinsky at bkrinsky@faseb.org.

Late Night Quotable

“Snapchat’s IPO launched on the stock market yesterday. Or, to put it another way, something that your parents don’t understand just launched on something YOU don’t understand.”

 Jimmy Fallon, The Tonight Show, March 2

“In the U.K., a group of scientists successfully taught bumblebees how to play soccer. And now, they’re trying to get American bumblebees to watch it.”

 Conan O’Brien, Conan, March 1


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Mark Vieth

Mark Vieth is a senior vice president of the Washington government relations firm CRD Associates. Since he joined CRD in 2002, he has specialized in bringing diverse associations, foundations, institutions of higher education and other stakeholders together to advocate for common objectives. Before that, Vieth was a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years, including serving as chief of staff for then-Congressman Robert A. Borski of Pennsylvania.

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