House Science Committee Looks Ahead

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Publication date: 
9 March 2011

Last month the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee approved an oversight plan that will guide its activities in 2011 and 2012.  This fifteen-page plan provides insight into the committee’s future agenda.  The committee is chaired by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX); Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is the Ranking Member.  In releasing the plan, Chairman Hall stated:

“Smart investments in research and development, coupled with proper business and tax incentives, can spur innovation and allow American businesses to flourish.  Americans have always had the opportunity to turn a good idea into a successful business, and because of this, the U.S. has led the world in innovation.  Responsible science and technology policy can help America maintain this leadership.  But we must recognize that increases in Federal spending are not the same as prudent investment, and do not necessarily lead to innovation.  Therefore, we must be diligent in eliminating wasteful, duplicative, and ineffective programs and prioritize our spending in areas of basic research that fuel innovation and not interfere with the marketplace.  I look forward to working with all of you this Congress to find solutions that move America forward.”

A statement explains that “the Committee will pursue aggressive oversight.”  The plan is organized by subcommittee.  Excerpts follow:

Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics:

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) human space flight program:

“The Committee will continue to provide oversight of NASA’s human spaceflight program as it undergoes a period of uncertainty and transition following various Administration proposals. Specific attention will be paid to the feasibility of NASA’s plans and priorities relative to their resources and requirements.”

NASA Earth and Space Science:

“The Committee will monitor NASA’s efforts to prioritize, plan, launch, and operate space and earth science missions with cost and schedule. Particular attention will be paid to programs that exceed cost estimates to ensure they do not adversely impact the development and launch of other missions. The Committee will also examine the impact of large increases in funding for the Earth Science Directorate relative to funding requested for other science disciplines.”

International Space Station (ISS) utilization and operation:

“The plans for operation and utilization of the ISS will continue to draw the Committee’s attention as NASA attempts to fully utilize the unique research opportunities that the facility offers, while exclusively relying on logistical services from commercial and foreign providers. Given the significant national investment to date in the facility, Congress has directed that NASA maintain a strong research and technology program to take advantage of ISS’s unique capabilities.”

Subcommittee on Energy and Environment:

Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science:

“DOE plays a leading role in supporting basic research in the physical sciences and driving long-term innovation and economic growth. The Committee will conduct oversight of Office of Science programs to review prioritization across, and management within, its major program areas. Special attention will also be given to the cost, operation, and maintenance of DOE’s existing and planned major facilities.”

National Laboratories:

“The Committee will continue to oversee the Department’s laboratory complex, which provides a wide range of important R&D capabilities. The management and upkeep of the national laboratories’ aging facilities, particularly the clean-up of radioactive and hazardous material sites, remains a continuing concern for the Committee. Efforts will continue to assure that the government meets its responsibilities to control risks in and around these facilities.”


“Technical challenges have hampered our ability to harness nuclear fusion as an energy source. The Committee will continue to monitor progress toward nuclear fusion, specifically international cooperation and progress in the International Thermonuclear Energy Reactor (ITER).”

Federal climate research activities:

“The Committee will continue to monitor programs to address climate change issues across the Federal government to ensure that existing programs are necessary, appropriately focused, effectively coordinated, and properly organized to prevent duplication of efforts and waste taxpayer resources. We must also insist that decisions on climate activities are based on solid and thorough science.”

Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation:

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) reorganization:

“The Committee will conduct program oversight for NIST, and other programs in the Department of Commerce, paying special attention to the evaluation of their impact on the private sector. The Committee is aware that the nation’s competitive position can be dramatically improved, or weakened, depending on how standards for different products and processes are developed. NIST is the only federal agency with long-term expertise working in this arena, and the Committee is concerned that the cooperation on standards development across agencies is less than optimal. It is the Committee’s intention to review the government’s role in standard setting with a focus on collaboration across Federal agencies.”

American economic competitiveness:

“The nation faces a challenge for economic and technological preeminence. The Committee will evaluate steps to reduce federal barriers to domestic and international competitiveness for U.S. companies.”

The plan also states:

“Within the Technology and Innovation’s Subcommittee’s jurisdiction, there are several activities supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) which would be better supported by the private sector. Among them is a grant program for building construction at universities and nonprofit organizations. There are also other programs administered by the Department of Commerce and Department of Transportation which could be streamlined and refined. The Committee will ensure that all funding for these programs is awarded competitively and only renewed after performance is assessed.”

Subcommittee on Research and Science Education:

National Science Foundation (NSF):

“The Committee will continue to oversee the NSF. With the recent reauthorization of the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act, special attention will be paid to the implementation, execution, and effectiveness of these new programs. While supportive of the overall goals of the legislation, there are concerns with several add-ons, especially those that were added to the bill without the proper legislative process. Further, the Committee will look for ways to trim duplicative and unused programs in an effort to maximize available resources.”

Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) K-12 oversight:

“STEM education is a vital component in the evolving economy. Members of the Committee have expressed interests in improving STEM education activities from pre-K through graduate education and beyond, in order to cultivate a top-notch future scientific and technical workforce, including well-qualified teachers in STEM fields. Determining the appropriate forms of federal support to achieve these outcomes will be of great importance to the Committee.”

Academic/Industry Partnerships:

“The Committee will review the effectiveness and consequences of academic/industry partnerships. Agencies and universities are again debating the level of scrutiny and control that should be applied to research in light of the possible use of new findings by adversaries. At the same time, industry questions the value of controls on technology sales and argues that such controls disproportionately limit American firms in competition for global sales. How to fairly balance these competing interests remains a perennial subject for Committee oversight.”

NSF Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) program:

“The Committee will continue to monitor and oversee NSF’s MREFC program, including how priorities for projects are developed, long-term budgeting for such priorities, and decision-making with regards to ever-changing scientific community needs.”

The plan also states:

“The innovative work of the National Science Foundation is important to the economic prosperity and competitiveness of the United States. However, there are various activities within the Foundation that may go beyond the mission of the agency and require more scrutiny and potential cuts in order to ensure that federal investments in basic science remain primarily focused on actual research of benefit to the Nation. Likewise, while STEM education is critical to maintaining the scientific and technical workforce essential to our competitiveness, many duplicative, wasteful, or simply unused programs exist across a number of federal agencies and must be more closely examined and, where warranted, adjusted.”

Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight:

Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository closure decision:

“The Committee will evaluate DOE’s decision to close the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository.”

NOAA satellite modernization:

“The Committee will continue its close monitoring of satellite modernization at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The restructuring of the National Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), and the creation of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) will continue to draw the Committee’s attention, as well as the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, and the broader issues of research-to-operations planning and data continuity.”

Critical minerals, materials, and isotopes:

“The Committee will provide oversight of materials, minerals, and isotopes that are critical to U.S. national interests. Recent shortages and supply concerns associated with helium-3, rare earth elements, californium-251, and plutonium-238 highlight the need to be ever vigilant in our monitoring of critical materials, mineral, and isotopes.”

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) oversight:

“The Committee will provide oversight of funding associated with ARRA to ensure that waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement is minimized, and to evaluate whether funding was aligned to achieve agency mission objectives through measureable outcomes.”

Scientific integrity:

“The Committee will continue to collect and examine allegations of intimidation of science specialists in federal agencies, suppression or revisions of scientific finding, and mischaracterization of scientific findings because of political or other pressures. The Committee’s oversight will also involve the development and implementation of scientific integrity principles within the executive branch.”

Note that the plan also includes a section of “input from the public and whistleblowers.”