Decision Points: House Looks Toward Important NSF Bills

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Publication date: 
12 May 2015

This is an important month for the National Science Foundation on Capitol Hill.  On Thursday, House appropriators will mark up their FY 2016 bill providing funding for the National Science Foundation.  The full House may consider the America COMPETES bill, authorizing NSF and its programs for FY 2016 and FY 2017.

The House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee meets on May 14 to mark up its FY 2016 funding bill.  The subcommittee was allocated $51.4 billion for FY 2016, up from this year’s level of $50.1 billion.  The subcommittee has a wide-ranging portfolio, including the departments of Justice and Commerce, and agencies such as the National Science Foundation and NASA.

Members of this subcommittee are strong supporters of science.  A year ago, under the chairmanship of now-retired Frank Wolf (R-VA), the subcommittee recommended an increase of 3.3 percent in funding for NSF, as compared to the Administration’s requested increase of 1.2 percent.

The subcommittee is now chaired by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX).  The subcommittee’s hearing on the FY 2016 request in mid-March was very positive, with Culberson declaring “The National Science Foundation is a national treasure.  And we will do everything we can to help protect you, to fund you at a level you need to continue to do the great work that you’ve been doing . . .  with as little political interference as is humanly possible.”  The Administration requested a 5.2 percent increase for the foundation for next year.  Republican appropriators have criticized the Administration for submitting FY 2016 budget requests based on what they characterize as unrealistic proposed changes in the tax code.    

Of great interest will be committee report language regarding the foundation’s grant-making procedures and if the bill continues the practice of appropriating a single amount for NSF’s Research and Related Activities or specifies funding for individual research directorates.  Both subjects were discussed at the March hearing.

It is anticipated that another important bill pertaining to NSF may be considered by the full House of Representatives in the near future.   H.R. 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 was reported out of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee last month.  The 194-page bill authorizes programs for NSF, the Department of Energy Office of Science, and National Institute of Standards and Technology, among others.  Sections of this bill are controversial and it was approved by the committee on a strictly party-line vote.  

NSF issued a two-page impact statement regarding this bill on May 7.  The statement explains:

“It has been widely anticipated that a new authorizing act would enable actions to enhance the nation's competitiveness through science and innovation. In fact, H.R. 1806 provides findings that support the major ingredients to achieve this -- including interdisciplinary research, international partnerships, and the enhancement of a STEM workforce. Yet the specific actions H.R. 1806 proposes contradict these findings.

Eight bulleted points follow regarding specific sections of the bill.  They include the bill’s specific authorization levels for research directorates and reductions in the authorized funding levels for interdisciplinary research; the Directorate for Education and Human Resources; the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences; the Directorate for Geosciences; Agency Operations and Award Management; and international activities.  The statement also expresses concern about new administrative burdens created by the legislation.