House Passes Four Science Bills

The House of Representatives passed four bills on July 14 that originated in the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Given that all four bills have bipartisan co-sponsorship, the action could temporarily quell the atmosphere of divisiveness that has recently characterized the committee’s work. The bills address administrative burdens for scientific investigators, STEM education, the impact of windstorms and international science and technology cooperation.

The first bill, titled Research and Development Efficiency Act (H.R. 5056), adopts the recommendations of a National Science Board Task Force on Administrative Burdens chaired by former APS President Artie Bienenstock. It was formed to solicit information from principal investigators (PIs) and to make recommendations. And based on that feedback, the legislation is expected to reduce the administrative burden on academic investigators. A Task Force report released on March 10, 2014, found that there is a substantial lack of consistency and standardization among agencies in all aspects of grants management, and that existing regulations are ineffective, create unnecessary work, or are inappropriately applied to research settings.

The report called for four principal recommendations:

  • agencies should focus on the science – that is, the peer review process and post-award oversight on merit and achievement;
  • there is a need to eliminate or modify ineffective regulations;
  • requirements should be harmonized and streamlined among various agencies; and
  • effective practices for university compliance with regulations should be promulgated. H.R. 5056 implements those recommendation and establishes a high level, interagency, inter-sector committee led by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to review federal regulations affecting research universities. That bill passed in the House by voice vote.

The second bill, titled International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2014 (H.R. 5029), directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish a body under the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to identify and coordinate international science and technology cooperation that can strengthen the domestic science and technology enterprise and support United States foreign policy goals. That bill passed by a vote of 346-41.

The third bill, titled STEM Education Act (H.R. 5031), broadens the definition of STEM subject areas to include related fields such as computer science, expands NSF’s informal STEM education activities and makes changes to eligibility requirements for the NSF’s Noyce Fellowship program to include applicants who do not currently have master’s degrees. Computer science is typically associated with STEM fields, though by codifying it, the competition for grants from NSF’s Education and Human Resources directorate will be amplified as a greater number of subject areas are eligible to apply, even as funding remains stagnant. H.R. 5031 passed by voice vote.

The fourth bill is titled National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act of 2014 (H.R. 1786) and reauthorizes the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program. The National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program was created in 2004 and must be reauthorized every three years.  The bill provides $21M in annual funding for the program which is focused on windstorm research and mitigation efforts.  H.R. 1786 passed by a voice vote.

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