FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

Congressional Committees Start Work on Reauthorization of COMPETES Legislation

Richard M. Jones
Number 152 - November 1, 2013  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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House and Senate committees are taking first steps towards the reauthorization of the America COMPETES legislation.   The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee is active on several fronts and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will be having a hearing next week.

The original COMPETES legislation was enacted in August 2007.  “The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act” or COMPETES Act responded to widespread concern that the U.S. was falling behind its international competitors.  The original 51-page bill authorized $43.3 billion in federal spending in FY 2008, 2009, and 2010 in science, engineering, mathematics and technology research, and in education programs.  An issue of FYI in August 2007 explained:

“Support for science and technology remains strongly bipartisan on Capitol Hill. During a Wednesday briefing on the bill by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), who have each played a very important role in getting this legislation passed, Alexander commented that ‘this is an example of how the process should work,’ calling it a ‘prime model of bipartisan cooperation.’ Gordon said that the House and Senate were in agreement as well, calling the conference between both chambers to decide on a final version of the bill ‘short and sweet.’ [Then House Science Committee] Chairman Gordon noted that this was not a Republican or Democratic bill nor a House or a Senate bill, later saying, ‘Securing a brighter future for our children is simply not a partisan issue . . . this is truly a team effort.’”

When signing the bill into law, President George Bush commented:

“This legislation shares many of the goals of my American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). ACI is one of my most important domestic priorities because it provides a comprehensive strategy to help keep America the most innovative Nation in the world by strengthening our scientific education and research, improving our technological enterprise, and providing 21st century job training.”

The American Competitiveness Initiative was announced by Bush in his 2006 State of the Union.  It was designed to double over the next ten years federal support for basic physical science research by doubling the sum of the budgets of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. 

A National Academies report issued in 2005, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future,” was instrumental in building the foundation for the American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES legislation.  It continues to be cited in S&T policy and budget discussions.

As authorization legislation, the America COMPETES Act set spending ceilings, but did not provide actual funding (which the purpose of appropriations legislation.)  It established important S&T policy, and the “doubling” of the three agency budgets served as an important goal and benchmark in the appropriations cycle for three fiscal years.

The original COMPETES Act expired in September 2010.  To prepare for the reauthorization (i.e., renewal] of the Act the House Science Committee held 49 hearings and four markup sessions on a reauthorization bill.  Passage of this reauthorization bill was far more contentious in the House Science Committee than it had been for the original legislation.   Committee Republican Members, while stating their support for the objectives of the COMPETES legislation, opposed the bill drafted by the Democratic Members and staff for continuing to keep the authorization levels for the three agency budgets on a doubling track and for its establishment of new programs.  Republicans argued for a freeze on the three budgets in the authorization levels for the bill’s five years, citing overall budget constraints.  The committee spent almost nine hours considering 60 amendments to the 222-page bill. It was passed by a vote of 29-8.

The controversy about funding levels carried over to the House floor.  A series of legislative maneuvers were used by both sides to stop and then win House passage of the bill.  

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s consideration of its version of the bill was far different.  In a low-key markup session in July the committee passed their bill by voice vote after very little discussion.   The bill sat idle, with many believing that the full Senate would not vote on the bill.  Quite unexpectedly, the bill was considered by the full Senate in late December after being amended to reduce the authorization levels from five to three years.  It also lengthened the “doubling” time for three agency budgets.  The bill was passed without objection and was sent back to the House.  Five days before Christmas the House approved the Senate’s version of the bill on a largely party-line vote of 228 to 130.  No Democrat opposed the bill; sixteen Republicans voted for it.

The House Science Committee is moving toward the reauthorization of the COMPETES legislation.  A hearing was held this week on the programs of the DOE Office of Science and draft legislation that would set authorization levels for FY 2014 and 2015.  Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) released a 220-page discussion draft of her “America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2013.”  Next week, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on the COMPETES Act. 

The House Science Committee’s actions on COMPETES reauthorization legislation are more likely to resemble the 2010 partisan deliberations than those in 2007.  The committee’s markup this July of a NASA reauthorization bill for 2014 and 2015 lasted more than five hours, during which 35 amendments were considered, most rejected on party line votes.   Earlier this year, there was much controversy about a Republican discussion draft regarding the National Science Foundation’s grant approval process. 

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095