At 11:20 this morning a subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee completed action on a bill that clears the way for the full committee to act on key legislation authorizing the budgets and programs of the DOE Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This is the right time for constituents who are interested in these programs to contact their representatives to express their views.
The bill that the full Science and Technology Committee will consider next week reauthorizes The America COMPETES Act. Signed into law three years ago, the legislation expires on September 30. It passed the House by a wide margin, and by unanimous consent in the Senate. Key provisions in this act put the Office of Science, NSF and NIST on a budget doubling track. The Act has been cited repeatedly by appropriators and the Bush and Obama Administrations as the basis for increases in the budgets of these three agencies – increases that are considerably larger than those for other federal agencies. It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of this act to NIST, the Office of Science, and the NSF. The bill which the Science Committee considers next week will have similar significance in coming years.
House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) started his committee’s consideration of the reauthorization of the COMPETES Act on January 20 of this year. The committee has been very active since then, with its subcommittees holding hearings on the three agencies and on topics such as research, STEM education, infrastructure, and innovation. On March 25, the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), completed it work on legislation reauthorizing Department of Energy programs. The bill contains the first comprehensive reauthorization of the Office of Science, sets funding levels that will keep its budget on a doubling path, and contains specific authorization levels and priorities for different research programs. It also contains authorization language for the Energy Frontier Research Centers, ARPA-E, and the Energy Innovation Hubs. Several Republicans on the subcommittee offered amendments during the March 25 session. One unsuccessful amendment would have reduced the bill’s authorization from five to three years, while another - also unsuccessful - would have removed the bill’s specific funding levels for Office of Science programs. The subcommittee did agree to an amendment to add language to the bill stating that the focus of the Office of Science would continue to be basic research.
On April 14, Chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) led the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education in a successful markup of legislation reauthorizing the National Science Foundation. This bill authorizes funding levels for the foundation for five years that would keep its budget on a doubling track, of which at least 5 percent would be allocated to high-risk, high-reward research proposals. The legislation authorizes fundamental research programs for transformative advances in manufacturing. It also contains language regarding a teacher scholarship program and other key education programs strengthening the teaching of science and related fields at all levels to promote the development of STEM talent. A Republican amendment to reduce the authorization from five to three years was rejected, as well as amendments regarding the bill’s language on research areas and cost sharing on teacher scholarship grants.
At today’s markup by the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation, chaired by Rep. David Wu (D-WA), Members considered the first comprehensive reauthorization of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 15 years. The subcommittee’s bill maintains the budgetary doubling path. It would reorganize NIST’s twenty-year-old laboratory structure from it current ten units to six units, a change that NIST Director Pat Gallagher has sought. It also authorizes funding levels for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Technology Innovation Program. The NIST Director’s position, with the same portfolio of responsibilities, would be elevated to that of Under Secretary of Commerce. At the markup, subcommittee members again rejected an amendment to reduce the authorization from five to three years, which Republicans said would allow for better congressional oversight of NIST’s programs. There was also discussion about the period over which the agency’s budget would be doubled. Other amendments dealt with information security standards, and programs to encourage minority STEM participation.
The full Science and Technology Committee meets on Wednesday, April 28 to combine the three subcommittee measures into a single bill to reauthorize the COMPETES act. It is expected that additional amendments will be offered to clarify or change legislative language. Committee Chairman Gordon wants to get this bill to the full House in May.