House Passes America COMPETES Bill

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“So the bill was passed” reported the May 20 Congressional Record on the 217 to 205 vote of the House of Representatives on H.R. 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015. 

“The public must be awfully confused, I understand, by both sides claiming that they are enhancing research” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) midway through the extensive debate on the 204-page bill.  Opponents charged the bill was “anti-science,” criticized its reductions in authorized funding levels for climate change and other research programs, and disparaged provisions affecting the process by which the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy award grants.  Supporters described its differently, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) calling it “a pro-science, fiscally responsible bill that sets America on a path to remain the world’s leader in innovation.”

“I am not alone in my opposition,” said House Science Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) early in the debate.  She put into the Record (page H3420) a list of 70 groups issuing statements of concern or opposition about the bill, among which were the American Institute of Physics and several of its Member Societies: the American Association of Physics Teachers, American Meteorological Society; American Physical Society; AVS: Science & Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing; and The Optical Society.  Also on this list were two coalitions to which AIP belongs: the Coalition for National Science Funding and the Energy Sciences Coalition. 

Amendments were offered during the debate.  Several were accepted making relatively minor changes to the bill.   Amendments making more substantial changes were rejected.  Among those was one offered by Johnson authorizing the Obama Administration’s 2016 requested funding levels for NSF, some DOE programs, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, with 5 percent annual increases for the each of the next five years.  Other provisions pertained to   STEM education,  ARPA-E authorized funding levels, and NIST programs.  Smith charging that the additional $600 million in spending Johnson’s amendment allowed was “irresponsible” for ignoring the overall spending caps in the Budget Control Act.   Johnson’s amendment failed by 50 votes on a strictly party-line basis. 

The White House issued a May 18 statement that it “strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 1806 . . . which would undermine critical investments in science, technology, and research.  The Administration believes that H.R. 1806 would be damaging to the Administration's actions to move American competitiveness, innovation, and job growth forward through a world-leading science, technology, and innovation enterprise.“  “If the President were presented with H.R. 1806, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.” 

On the same day the House passed H.R.1806, seven senators from both parties introduced a 14-page bill that would eventually be folded into a Senate COMPETES reauthorization bill.  S. 1398, sponsored by Lamar Alexander (R-TN), would reauthorize DOE’s basic research program for FY 2016 through 2020 with roughly 4.0 percent annual increases, as well as authorizing increases for ARPA-E.


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