Last week the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology considered and then voted to send H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014 to the full House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) predicted that the full committee will consider the bill within the next few weeks.
The 130-page bill has attracted considerable attention in the science policy community, with much of the focus on Title I of the legislation pertaining to the National Science Foundation. The bill authorizes NSF funding in the current year and in FY 2015, and would make changes in the foundation’s operations. H.R. 4186 also authorizes federal STEM education programs; the Office of Science and Technology Policy; the National Institute of Standards and Technology; and Networking and Information Technology Research and Development. A review of selected provisions of this bill follows. Note that this is not a complete summary of all of the wide-ranging provisions in this lengthy bill.
Title I: National Science Foundation
Authorization Levels, page 4-7: The bill authorizes FY 2014 funding at the same level as the existing appropriation. For FY 2015, it authorizes $7,279.5 million, slightly above the Administration’s FY 2015 request of $7,255.0 million. The bill authorizes FY 2015 funding for individual directorates, including the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate at $1,399.4 million; the Administration requested $1,295.6 million. The bill authorizes $858.5 million for Education and Human Resources; the FY 2015 request was $889.8 million. The amended bill provides $200.0 million for the Social, Behavioral, and Economics Directorate in FY 2015, an amount viewed as too low by critics who point to the $272.2 million request.
Accountability and Transparency, pages 13-16: The bill takes a different approach from the discussion draft that provoked much concern last year. It calls for a “determination by the responsible Foundation official as to why the research grant or cooperative agreement – (1) is worthy of federal funding and (2) is in the national interest, as indicated by having the potential to achieve” one of several objectives, including, notably “promotion of the progress of science in the United States.” There is also language regarding a publically-announced written justification and the NSF’s Merit and Broader Impacts requirement. “Nothing in this section shall be construed as altering the Foundation’s intellectual merit or broader impacts criteria for evaluating grant applications” the bill states.
Expanding STEM Opportunities, pages 19-24: There is much bill language about research “on programming that engages underrepresented students in grades kindergarten through 8 in STEM in order to prepare these students to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees or careers in STEM.”
STEM Program Consolidation, page 24: NSF is prohibited from implementing “any STEM education program and activity changes proposed for the Foundation in the budget for fiscal year 2014” the bill states about last year’s Administration proposal to restructure federal STEM education programs. NSF is required to review its education programs for duplication with other programs.
Recompetition of Awards, pages 25-26: “The Director shall ensure that the system for recompetition of Maintenance and Operations of facilities, equipment and instrumentation is fair, consistent, and transparent and is applied in a manner that renews grants and awards in a timely manner. The Director shall periodically evaluate whether the criteria of the system are being applied in a manner that is transparent, reliable, and valid.”
Misrepresentation of Research Results, pages 27-29: The bill includes strict language regarding falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism. Researchers found to have violated a certification would be banned from receiving a foundation research grant or extension for five to ten years.
Research Grant Applications and Conditions, pages 29-30: Under the bill, a principal investigator applying for a grant could not include more than five article citations. NSF is to take steps to ensure against duplication of other federal research grants. Of note: “principal investigators who have received more than 5 years of Foundation funding at any point in their careers, other than graduate and post doctoral traineeship awards, are only awarded additional research grants by the Foundation if they will be contributing original, creative, and transformative research under the grant.”
Scientific Breakthrough Prizes, Rotating Personnel Salaries, Innovation Corps, Administrative Burden, pages 31-34
Title II: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
The bill includes considerable language regarding federal STEM education programs on which the government spends almost $3 billion per year. “It is the sense of Congress that . . . more effective coordination and adoption of performance measurement based on objective outcomes for federally supported STEM programs is needed,” the bill declares in a section entitled “Sense of Congress.” It continues, “strengthening the Federal STEM portfolio may require program consolidations and terminations, but such changes should be based on evidence with stakeholder input. . . .the President’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposal did not adequately explain proposed program consolidations and terminations in the Federal STEM portfolio, nor did it elicit stakeholder input and outside expertise, resulting in the need for Congress to limit the Administration’s implementation of that proposal . . . .coordinating STEM programs and activities across the Federal Government in order to limit duplication and engage stakeholders in STEM programs and related activities for which objective outcomes can be measured will bolster results of Federal STEM education programs, improve the return on taxpayers’ investments in STEM education programs, and in turn strengthen the United States economy."
To assist in the achievement of these objectives the bill establishes a STEM Education Advisory Panel, a Committee on STEM Education, and a STEM Education Coordinating Office for evaluation, planning, and budget purposes.
Title III: Office of Science and Technology Policy
In addition to setting authorization levels for OSTP, the bill contains other provisions regarding federal science policy, including:
Regulatory Efficiency, pages 45-47: OSTP is to establish a working group to review regulations affecting universities conducting R&D and to implement the group’s recommendations.
Public Access to Research Articles and Data, pages 47-52: “Not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the National Science and Technology Council shall deliver a plan to Congress containing policies, procedures, and standards for the Federal science agencies to enable archiving and retrieving covered material in digital form for public availability in perpetuity. The plan shall. . . provide a data-driven justification for the plan, including the embargo periods set [under other provisions in the bill] . . . be developed in a transparent and open manner. . . indicate what procedures were followed to ensure that this process of developing the plan allowed for the full consideration of all stakeholder concerns; and . . . draw on information developed under section 103 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010.” Embargo periods for articles and data are established in the bill.
Advanced Manufacturing R&D, pages 53-58: The bill contains several provisions regarding planning and coordinating federal programs in advanced manufacturing R&D.
Coordination of International Science and Technology Partnerships, Alternative Research Funding Models, and Prize Competition, pages 58-66
Title IV: Innovation and Technology Transfer
National Institute of Standards and Technology, pages 66 -94: The bill sets authorization levels for NIST for FY 2014 and FY 2015. The authorization for FY 2014 is the same as the current appropriation of $850.0 million. The FY 2015 level is $862.8 million; the Administration requested $900.0 million. Other provisions starting on page 73 pertain to Education and Outreach, a new Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program, a National Research Council report on the NIST laboratories, and the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
Innovative Approaches to Technology Transfer, pages 94-105: Federal agencies are required to establish a plan, including the awarding of grants, “to improve or accelerate the commercialization of federally funded research and technology by small business concerns, including new businesses.”
Also included in this bill on pages 105-130 is Title V: Networking and Information Technology Research and Development.
Eleven organizations have submitted letters or statements regarding these provisions to the Members of the House Science Committee. These documents may be viewed here under the heading For the Record.