Senators Seek Input on Bipartisan COMPETES Bill

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Publication date: 
9 July 2015

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation announced plans yesterday to develop a reauthorization bill for the America COMPETES Act.  

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation announced plans yesterday to develop a reauthorization bill for the America COMPETES Act.  In contrast to counterpart legislation written  by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, the announcement discussed the Senate committee’s intention that “seeks a bipartisan path” in crafting the legislation, and is actively requesting input from “members of the public and interested groups.”

The original America COMPETES Act was signed into law in 2007 by President George Bush with strong bipartisan support.  Commenting on this authorization bill, Bush stated “This legislation supports our efforts to double funding for basic research in the physical sciences.”  Actual funding provided by annual appropriations bills failed to attain this goal for the DOE Office of Science, National Science Foundation, and the research programs of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  After the Act’s expiration it was reauthorized in 2010 with considerably more difficulty because of disagreements between the parties about appropriate funding levels.

Efforts to craft a new reauthorization bill in the House in the spring of 2013 were characterized by immediate disputes between the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee about the National Science Foundation.  The controversy, marked by bitter contention, continued through the House’s consideration and passage on May 20 of H.R. 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015.  Seventy scientific organizations issued statements of concern about or opposition to the bill, including the American Institute of Physics and five of its Member Societies.  All Democratic representatives voted against this bill. The White House issued a statement indicating that President Obama would veto this bill

Action has now shifted to the Senate.  The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held on a hearing on COMPETES reauthorization in November 2013 with expressions of strong support for science on both sides of the witness table but little discussion about legislation.  A year ago five Democratic senators introduced a 150-page reauthorization bill that saw no movement. 

Yesterday’s press release from the Senate committee indicates that senators will be taking a different approach than that used in the House.  “The Commerce Committee seeks a bipartisan path for reauthorizing federal research and development programs carried out by agencies last authorized by the COMPETES Act,” said Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD), Committee  Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness Chairman Ted Cruz (R-TX).  They announced that Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) will convene a series of meetings and briefings that will, the release states, “gather input from the U.S. science and research community and other interested parties on federal research and development (R&D) policy priorities.”  Commenting on this effort, Thune, Nelson, and Cruz stated “Both Senator Gardner and Senator Peters have experience working across the aisle during their service in the U.S. House and Senate. We have great confidence in their ability to point our committee in the right direction.”  Gardner and Peters became senators in January; both previously served in the House of Representatives.  The release explains: “Beginning this month, Senators Gardner and Peters will lead participants in a series of meetings and briefings related to reauthorization. Topics will include

(1) maximizing basic research;
(2) improving Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education research and practices for students; and
(3) translating federal research results into innovative commercial applications for the benefit of the economy and society.”

The release continues:

“Members of the public and interested groups seeking to provide input are invited to submit information via SciencePolicy [at] Submissions are requested no later than Friday, August 21.”

Thune and Gardner authored an op-ed that appeared in a Capitol Hill newspaper outlining their intentions.  Of note, they write of gathering “consensus ideas” and engaging discussions with academia, business, nonprofits and government agencies.