House Science Committee to Mark Up NSF and NIST Authorization Bill

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Publication date: 
12 March 2014

Tomorrow the full House Science, Space, and Technology Committee meets to mark up a bill that would authorize the programs of the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  The legislation will also authorize STEM education programs, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and related matters, and R&D programs for Networking and Information Technology.  A draft of this legislation attracted much attention last year because of proposed controversial changes in NSF’s grant-making process. 

President Obama signed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act into law in early 2010.  The act authorizes the National Science Foundation and other science programs.  This bill set FY 2011, 2012 and 2013 authorization levels.  Authorization bills establish policy and spending levels; appropriations bills provide actual funding.

Last May the staff of the House Science Committee released a discussion draft of a bill that was widely seen as being part of an eventual NSF reauthorization bill.  Provisions pertaining to the foundation’s grant-making process were quite controversial and attracted much notice, as reviewed in issues of FYI:

Little was heard about the reauthorization legislation in the remainder of the year, although it was widely expected that the Science Committee would take up a NSF reauthorization bill this year.

On Monday evening the Science Committee issued a press release describing a bill to reauthorize the NSF, National Institute of Standards and Technology, OSTP, STEM education, and other matters.  The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act was described in the release as follows:

“The bill reauthorizes and streamlines federal investments at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) by funding research and development (R&D) to address national needs. The bill highlights manufacturing competitiveness as the primary role of NIST’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) while providing greater flexibility to MEP centers. It also sets priorities for taxpayer-funded research and drives our nation’s investments in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs.  The FIRST Act broadens the definition of STEM education to include academic subjects like computer science that build on traditional STEM subjects. The bill also includes language allowing NSF to support student participation in nonprofit competitions, out-of-school activities and field experiences related to STEM. The legislation also encourages outcome-based evaluations of STEM programs.”

The bill, H.R. 4186, is sponsored by Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-IN).  Buschon was quoted in this release as stating:

“Additionally, the FIRST Act strengthens STEM education by prohibiting the administration’s proposed STEM reorganization, expanding opportunities for students to engage in programs in and out of the classroom, and improving our evaluation of STEM programs.”

Tomorrow the Science Committee will mark up this 130-page bill that was just posted.  Last year’s five hour markup by the Science Committee of a NASA reauthorization bill was quite contentious, with amendments offered by the committee’s Democratic members failing on party-line votes.   In a release issued yesterday by the committee’s senior Democratic member, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) she said:

“I join my Republican colleagues in supporting the goal of reauthorizing the Competes Act. We must continue to signal to the nation and to the world our intent to continue to lead in an increasingly competitive global economy and to secure the future for our children and grandchildren. However, while there may be some Democratic Members whose priorities are reflected in the FIRST Act of 2014, overall it is a missed opportunity. The bill stops much too short of renewing our commitment to maintaining our scientific and technological leadership now and into the future. Last week I and the other Democratic Members introduced the America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2014, a comprehensive reauthorization of the 2007 and 2010 Competes Acts. Our bill reflects input from across the research, innovation, and STEM education stakeholder communities. I look forward to full committee consideration of the FIRST Act, where we can have a good debate about the merits of the bill and hopefully have the opportunity to strengthen the message it sends.”

Regarding the NSF, there is likely to be discussion about these provisions at tomorrow’s markup:

Total Authorization Levels: 

For FY 2014 (current year) the bill authorizes $7,171.9 million
For comparison, the enacted FY 2014 appropriation is $7,171.9 million

For FY 2015, the bill authorizes $7,279.5 million
For comparison, the Administration’s FY 2015 request is $7,255.0 million

It is expected that there will be much discussion about the FY 2015 number(s) being too low.

Authorization Levels for NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economics Directorate:

For FY 2014 (current year) the bill authorizes $150.0 million
For comparison, the FY 2014 estimated budget is $256.9 million

For FY 2015, the bill authorizes $150.0 million
For comparison, the Administration’s FY 2015 request is $272.2 million

The Republican members’ release announcing H.R. 4186 quotes Chairman Smith’s concerns about several grants. 

Accountability and Transparency:

Last year’s discussion draft took a different approach from that of H.R. 4186.  See Section 105 and especially Section 106 for the language in the bill as introduced.  These provisions are found starting on page 13 of the bill.