House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Approves America COMPETES Act of 2015

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Approves America COMPETES Act of 2015

April 23, 2015. Washington, DC

On April 22, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology voted 19-16 long party lines to pass an amended version of the American COMPETES Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806) after a day-long markup of the bill. The legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act would authorize research, engineering, and education programs supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

H.R. 1806 did not go through the hearing process and did not include input from the Democratic committee members prior to the markup.  It is viewed as partisan legislation that moves the nation backward in terms of research and development and is unlikely to become law in its current form.  The committee heard 34 amendments and accepted a few while rejecting 24 proposals presented by Democrats. Some of the amendments were also withdrawn.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) offered a manager’s amendment that made “minor technical changes” that includes shifting funding to support the National Science Board. It also includes funding for national laboratories and NSF work expanding STEM opportunities for students in grades K-8.  The committee approved an amendment from Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) that requires the Department of Energy’s Office of Science to explore alternative fusion energy concepts. The committee also accepted an amendment from Rep. Grayson authorizing Energy Frontier Research Centers at the department.  One amendment from Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) would have used existing funds to integrate arts and design into federal STEM programs. It generated substantial debate but was ultimately rejected.

Several rejected amendments would have increased research and funding for green energy and climate change, or struck provisions from the bill that limit those things. The committee did adopt an amendment stating that Congress recognizes climate change exists. However, it was modified from Rep. Eric Swalwell’s (D-CA) original version, which said humans contribute to climate change.

Chairman Smith and his Republican colleagues on the committee opposed several amendments that would increase funding for National Science Foundation agencies, citing the requirement to comply with the Budget Control Act spending limits.  Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) proposed an amendment to increase authorized funding levels for NSF, Department of Energy Office of Science and NIST if the Budget Control Act (BCA) spending caps are lifted. However, it was withdrawn.

House Science Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) stated that the America COMPETES Act of 2007 and 2010 were true bipartisan measures unlike H.R. 1806.  She and other Democrats expressed concern that ideological policies are driving reduced funding levels and the desire for more congressional direction and oversight over NSF. The Democrats and many in the science community believe the legislation adversely impacts education, science, and our nation’s global competitiveness and sought unsuccessfully to substitute a democratic bill for H.R. 1806.

Key science organizations that oppose the bill include the Association of American Universities, American Physical Society, American Anthropological Association and the Consortium of Social Science Associations.

Two critical recurring themes throughout the markup were that NSF’s merit-based system should be preserved and that authorizing the individual agency directorates would prove to be a mistake.  It was articulated that politicians should not dictate priorities and research focus – this should continue be driven by scientists.  Many of the Democrats argued that robust sustained investment in R&D is essential for the United States to maintain place as world leader in innovation.

The House mark up is the first step in a long process to pass a new America COMPETES Act.  The House, which is very divided on the legislation along partisan lines, has to pass a bill, the Senate has to introduce and pass a bill, and a final version has to be negotiated by both chambers to send to the President for his signature.  At the end of the day, actions and policies that build our nation’s economy and innovation through long-term investments in science rather than divesting through funding cuts and polices driven by political ideology should be the objective.

Chairman Smith and Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said in a joint statement that they “share the goal of reauthorizing the agencies under the America COMPETES Act this year.

For more information on the American COMPETES Act of 2015, please see
http://science.house.gov/markup/hr-1806-america-competes-reauthorization-act-2015.

Please contact Ron Hamm at rhamm@hammconsulting.com if you have additional questions.

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