SENATE COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION BILL INTRODUCED BEFORE AUGUST RECESS

Just before leaving town for the August recess, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced S. 2757, a bill to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act. Rockefeller, along with Committee colleagues Richard Durbin (D-IL), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Christopher Coons (D-DE) and Edward Markey (D-MA) supported the bill.

In contrast to previous reauthorizations, this bill was introduced without any Republican co-sponsors. Rockefeller, who is slated to retire at the end of this year, has stated his intent to get COMPETES reauthorized before his departure. However, given the number of high-priority bills that await consideration on the Senate floor, including FY15 appropriations bills, the fact that Congress will only be in session for 12 legislative days before adjourning for the Nov. 4 mid-term elections, and that a lame duck session after the elections has not been determined yet, it is unlikely that S. 2757 will be addressed by the end of the session.

Even if the bill were to be considered before the end of the session, S. 2757 differs considerably, and in some cases dramatically, from the House Science Committee’s reauthorization bill, which means reconciling the two is also unlikely.

S. 2757 authorizes spending for NIST and NSF for fiscal years 2015 through 2019: For NIST, the bill’s FY 2015 authorization of $912.7 million is higher than the Administration’s request of $900.0 million. The authorization levels would increase by approximately 6.7 percent in subsequent years under the bill. NIST’s current budget is $850.0 million, which is an increase of 10.9 percent from the previous year.

The bill also authorizes $7,649.3 million for the NSF for FY 2015; by contrast, the Administration’s request was $7,255.0 million. NSF’s authorizations would also increase approximately 6.7 percent in subsequent years. NSF’s current budget is $7,171.9 million, which is up 4.3 percent from the previous year.

In addition to the authorizations, the bill also addresses the development of a science and technology workforce in STEM education provisions for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NSF.

Importantly, the Senate bill addresses head-on a number of policy matters that have been under scrutiny by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee majority, including the importance of social, behavioral and economic sciences, federal scientific advisory bodies in determining the R&D priorities of federal agencies, and the NSF merit review process. With regard to NSF merit review, the Senate bill states that “as evidenced by the Foundation’s contributions to scientific advancement, economic development, human health, and national security, its peer review and merit review processes have successfully identified and funded scientifically and societally-relevant research and must be preserved.” The bill also emphasizes the importance of participation in scientific and technical conferences,

S. 2757 also addresses the recommendations of a recently released National Science Board Task Force report on administrative burdens in federally sponsored research. Chaired by former APS President Artie Bienenstock, the task force recommended a number of measures to ease the administrative burdens of applying for NSF grants. Specifically, the bill proposes that the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy convene a subcommittee on research productivity under the Committee on Science of the National Science and Technology Council, consistent with the intent to increase the productivity of federally sponsored research efforts. The subcommittee is directed to “develop and propose for adoption by the Federal science agencies, recommendations for reducing the costs and administrative burdens associated with competing for, completing, and reporting on Federal research grants.”

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