Senators Drafting America COMPETES Bill, Seek Further Input From Science Community

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Publication date: 
23 October 2015

Senators Cory Gardner and Gary Peters, in charge of drafting the Senate version of the America COMPETES bill, are seeking further input from the science community on STEM education/workforce issues and research commercialization and technology transfer,

Earlier this week, Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) shared an update on the progress they have been making on a bipartisan effort to rewrite the America COMPETES bill, which would renew the statutes for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy Office of Science, and a number of major science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education programs. In the update, the senators include a follow-up request for information from the science community, asking for responses by email to a set of 10 questions in two focus areas.

Saying that they have received sufficient input on the topic of basic research, the senators are seeking additional feedback on (1) STEM education and workforce issues and (2) research commercialization and technology transfer.  The questions they would like answered are available here, and they request that any submissions be sent to SciencePolicy [at] no later than Friday, Oct. 30.

Senators received significant input from scientific community in recent months

This summer, Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee John Thune (R-SD) charged the two senators and fellow committee members with the task of drafting the Senate version of the America COMPETES bill. Intentionally bipartisan in approach, Thune appointed them leaders of an innovation and competitiveness working group that, as FYI reported, has held a series of three invitation-only roundtables as well as solicited direct community input on the legislation via email. 

In their update, the senators cited three common themes that emerged across the roundtables and emails. The first they heard is the importance of “continued investment by the federal government in basic research, as well as encouragement of wider participation in STEM subjects.” The second is “stronger partnerships among government, the private sector, and academia … [to] better leverage discoveries emerging from research universities [and] drive innovation.” And the third is “minimizing barriers and improving incentives at universities and in the private sector [to] better maximize the scientific and economic return on federal research investment.

Senators intend to draft bill that focuses on research efficiency

Key committee staffers have suggested that two of the focus areas of the bill will be reducing the amount of administrative burden on scientists and the scientific community, and strengthening project oversight and minimizing cost overruns for large research projects. As FYI reported last week, a report released in September by the National Academies found that the “continuing expansion of federal research regulations and requirements is diminishing the effectiveness of the U.S. scientific enterprise and lowering the return on the federal investment in research by directing investigators’ time away from research and toward administrative matters.” The report also identifies specific actions Congress, the White House, federal agencies and research institutions could take to reduce regulatory burden.

The Senate’s Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee is expected to hold at least one hearing on the America COMPETES bill before or concurrent with introduction of the legislation, although the Senate’s timeline for introduction, hearings and further consideration is uncertain.  Gardner and Peters have underscored the extent to which they are intent on drafting a bill that works for researchers and keeps the nation competitive internationally. Said Gardner:

Now that our series of roundtables has concluded, I look forward to drafting reauthorization legislation that keeps America the worldwide leader in science, technology, and innovation. The scientists, business owners, inventors, educators and others who participated in these discussions each offered valuable insight into what we need to do to maintain and enhance American competitiveness, and I look forward to incorporating their ideas into this process.

Senate bill a bipartisan, broadly collaborative effort so far

Highlighting the strong bipartisan collaboration of the Senate’s America COMPETES efforts, Peters added:

Experts from the scientific community, industry, academia, nonprofits and economic development organizations agree that modest, sustained and predictable increases in federal research and development investments are critical to ensuring the economic competitiveness of the United States moving forward. … It has been a pleasure to work with Senator Gardner to gather input as we work to set these policy priorities so that our investments in federal research and development continue to drive America’s growth.

As FYI reported, the House passed a partisan and controversial version of the America COMPETES legislation in May. Many of the nation’s major science organizations have gone on record as opposed to that legislation. The Senate has taken a more bipartisan approach to its version so far.