Warning on COMPETES Bill: Veto Ahead

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Publication date: 
19 May 2015
Number: 
65

Tomorrow morning the House of Representatives is scheduled to consider H.R. 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015.  Yesterday evening the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy on the bill, warning “If the President were presented with H.R. 1806, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.” 

The 500-word Statement charges that the bill “would undermine critical investments in science, technology, and research.”  H.R. 1806 sets “maximum funding levels significantly below those provided in the President's FY 2016 Budget” for DOE, NSF, NIST, and OSTP with some authorizations less than half that requested.  The Statement also criticizes program policy changes in the legislation.

H.R. 1806 is the latest version of the COMPETES legislation.  First signed into law by President George W. Bush in August 2007, the law was described in FYI as “a bipartisan, bicameral effort to expand and enhance U.S. basic research and education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to ensure the nation’s continued competitiveness in the future.”   The bill responded to recommendations in the often-cited2005 Rising Above the Gathering Storm report and authorized the doubling of the budgets of the DOE Office of Science, National Science Foundation, and research programs of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  Subsequent appropriations bills providing actual funding fell far short of these targets.

The bill was reauthorized in 2010 and signed into law by President Barrack Obama with significantly less bipartisan support due to rising House Republican concerns about federal spending.  Two years ago initial efforts to write a third version of this law pertaining to the National Science Foundation engendered much controversy.  These efforts culminated in the approval of H.R. 1806 on April 22 by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on a strictly party-line vote.  Amendments offered by Democratic Members of the Committee addressing the problems that the Statement of Administration Policy identified were rejected. 

Amendments are likely to be offered during tomorrow’s House floor consideration of the bill, but are, absent a change in leadership strategy, unlikely to be accepted.  In contrast, today the House considers six House Science Committee bills on a range of issues, including supercomputing, international cooperation, weather forecasting, science prizes, and DOE laboratories.  All are being considered under Suspension of the Rules, a procedure reserved for bills enjoying wide bipartisan support. 

The Statement of Administration Policy follows.  Unless greatly modified on the House floor tomorrow or in a later conference with the Senate, which is in the first stages of its own reauthorization bill, the Administration Statement sends a strong signal that the 2015 House Science Committee version of the America COMPETES bill will never become law.

"Statement of Administration Policy

“The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015, which would undermine critical investments in science, technology, and research.  The Administration believes that H.R. 1806 would be damaging to the Administration's actions to move American competitiveness, innovation, and job growth forward through a world-leading science, technology, and innovation enterprise.

“The Administration strongly opposes the bill's appropriation authorizations for the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) that would establish maximum funding levels significantly below those provided in the President's FY 2016 Budget.  For example, H.R. 1806 would weaken investments in critical clean energy research and development and grid modernization by providing authorization levels at less than half of the funding levels proposed in the President's Budget for DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.  Additionally, the legislation would shortchange efforts to support fundamental research to address diverse and critical global challenges by providing an authorization level for the DOE Office of Science biological and environmental research program far short of the funding levels proposed in the President's Budget.  The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 would also establish NSF authorizations levels for geosciences, education and human resources, international and integrative activities, and administrative activities well below the funding levels proposed in the President's Budget, as well as an NSF authorization for social, behavioral, and economic sciences research that is 58 percent below the President's Budget.  Additionally, the legislation would undermine efforts to implement sound science and technology policies by providing an authorization level for OSTP nearly 20 percent below the President's Budget.

“In addition to its strong opposition to the authorized funding levels in H.R. 1806, the Administration has serious concerns with several other provisions in the bill and looks forward to working with the Congress to address its concerns.  For example, the Administration opposes barring Federal regulatory authorities from relying on the results of certain Federally-supported research and development.  This provision would set an extremely harmful precedent of political interference in the scientific integrity of the regulation process, which would undermine the value of the Federal research and development enterprise as a whole.  The Administration also objects to the increased administrative burdens that the bill imposes on NSF and its awardees without commensurate benefit.  In addition, the Administration opposes reducing oversight at the DOE National Laboratories, which would increase the exposure of the Federal Government to risk and liabilities while also conflicting with the execution of the DOE mission.

“H.R. 1806 undermines key investments in science, technology, and innovation and imposes unnecessary and damaging requirements on Federal support of research.  If the President were presented with H.R. 1806, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”