On Monday, the House of Representatives passed three bi-partisan bills relevant to the scientific community. A fourth, the National Institute of Standards and Technology Policy Reauthorization Act was pulled from consideration but is expected to be voted on shortly by the House.
H.R. 5031, the STEM Education Act, was passed unanimously and is a bill which defines science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to include computer science. This will allow for computer scientists to access STEM grant funding at agencies including the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, NASA, and National Institute of Standards and Technology. The bill does not address how this will affect STEM graduation requirements. The bill also amends the Noyce Scholarship Program, reauthorized in the COMPETES Act of 2007 and again in 2010, to allow bachelor-level students to receive scholarship funding. The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, traditionally only available to master’s-level candidates, provides funding to institutions of higher education to support students who are STEM majors to become K-12 teachers.
H.R. 5031 additionally authorizes National Science Foundation grants for research and development on informal STEM learning and engagement that increases participation and improves learning outcomes in STEM disciplines. It specifies the use of grant funding for the design and testing of STEM learning models, programs and resources for informal STEM education. H.R. 5031 was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions which is currently in the process of working on the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act.
The House also passed the Research and Development Efficiency Act, H.R. 5056, which addresses a growing concern in Congress that researchers are facing significant administrative burdens and that a high percentage of funding available for basic scientific research is instead being used for administrative and reporting requirements. While Congress recognizes that the grants.gov website has resulted in some progress being made to streamline the pre-award grant application process, there is still concern regarding the amount of time researchers spend on administrative tasks. Post-award costs have continued to grow and researchers are obligated to comply with the unique reporting requirements of multiple agencies.
H.R. 5056 addresses these concerns by establishing a working group which would include the National Science and Technology Council and the Office of Management and Budget which would be responsible for reviewing regulations affecting research. The group would be tasked with finding ways to harmonize, streamline and eliminate duplicative and ineffective federal regulations and reporting requirements. The group would also focus on minimizing the regulatory burden on U.S. institutions of higher education that are performing federally funded research. The bill requires that the working group will seek input from stakeholders including scientific societies and universities.
The issue of administrative burdens has been frequently discussed in the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. The Committee held a June 12 hearing on a report released by the National Science Board on reducing administrative workloads for federally funded research. These issues were also addressed in a National Research Council report and in other hearings during which Members heard from the business and university community. HR 5056 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation which is also working on the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act.
H.R. 5029, the International Science and Technology Cooperation Act also passed the House of Representatives on Monday and now will be considered by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The bill establishes a group co-chaired by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the State Department. The group will coordinate international science and technology cooperative research and training activities. It will be responsible for international partnerships of the federal agencies and will plan international science and technology priorities. The group will solicit advice from scientific societies, universities, and other groups to identify opportunities for cooperation that advance U.S. science and technology goals and foreign policy interests.