NSF and NIST Reauthorization Bill Approved by Subcommittee

Publication date

The House Subcommittee on Research and Technology met this morning to consider and then approve sending a bill to the full House Science, Space, and Technology Committee that would reauthorize the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and STEM education programs.

The Research and Technology Subcommittee is chaired by Larry Bucshon (R-IN) who with full Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sponsored H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act.  FYI #42 was incorrect in stating that this bill was going to be marked up by the full committee; its subcommittee met today as the first step in this process.

While there are significant differences between the committee’s Republican and Democratic members the 90-minute session proceeded in a bipartisan and amicable manner.  While not discussed by Republicans at today’s session, their general approach calls for authorization bills to be in concert with overall budget numbers.  In contrast, Subcommittee Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) contended “we should be setting an aspirational authorization level for science funding in this committee.”

In his opening statement, Smith told his colleagues:

“To remain globally competitive, we need to make sure our priorities are funded and that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. The FIRST Act keeps America first in areas of science and research that are crucial to economic growth.   Our bill focuses taxpayer investments for basic research in critical areas such as biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, engineering and mathematics.  Advances in these fields drive innovation, create jobs and keep our economy strong.”

He later added:

“The FIRST Act assures that scarce taxpayer dollars are spent on high quality science that promotes our national interest. In recent years, the NSF has funded a number of questionable research grants -- using up taxpayer money that would have been better spent on higher priorities.” 

Smith also commented:

“The FIRST Act does not change NSF’s peer review process.  But it does expand accountability and requires transparency so that only high quality research receives taxpayer funds.”

Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) criticized the bill on several fronts:

“While I am pleased the Committee is focusing its efforts on research and science education, I am very concerned about the bill being marked up here today. The FIRST Act overall is a missed opportunity that sends the wrong message about our plans to keep America competitive and secure the future for our children and grandchildren. I cannot support it in its current form.”

Referring to the recommendations in the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report Johnson stated:

“Sustained increases in funding for NSF, NIST, and DOE’s Office of Science was a key part of the recommendations of the well regarded National Academies panel back in 2006.  Instead, this bill would essentially lock the agencies into their current funding levels for an additional year and sets no path for increases in the future as our economy continues to recover.  I am also adamantly opposed to the sharp budget cuts for the social sciences and the geosciences. There is no legitimate scientific reason for these cuts. These are politically motivated cuts to appease a conservative ideology that doesn’t believe in certain kinds of science, and I cannot support them.”

Johnson also objected to the bill’s provisions regarding NSF accountability procedures, public access to research results and data, and the decision to reauthorize the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and ARPA-E in separate legislation.

Fourteen amendments to the bill were offered.  Eight were approved at once by voice vote.  Amendments regarding salary caps for NSF rotating personnel and a requirement regarding misrepresentation of research results were withdrawn when Buschon assured the amendments’ sponsors that he would work with them to resolve their concerns.  An amendment offered by Lipinski to increase the authorization levels for NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economics (SBE) Directorate by $50.0 million in both FY 2014 and FY 2015 was agreed to by voice vote.  Lipinski did not win support for his amendment to remove the bill’s specific authorization levels for NSF directorates. 

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) lost roll call votes on a party-line basis for two amendments that she offered.  The first, offered before Lipinski’s (above) successful SBE amendment would have shifted authorization levels for the foundation’s directorates to increase funding for the SBE and Geosciences directorates.  The second would have struck bill language in Title III – Office of Science and Technology Policy.  Section 303 establishes “Public Access Policies and Procedures” including provisions relating to embargo periods.  Lofgren contended Section 303 was a step backwards and favored big publishers.  Buschon and Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) countered by saying shorter embargo periods would be very detrimental to professional societies and publishers.  (AIP is a publisher of scientific journals.)

The committee and subcommittee chairs and ranking members expressed a willingness to continue to work together to resolve their differences.  In opening remarks, Smith spoke of the bill moving forward to the full Science Committee "in the coming weeks.”