Gov Relations

Bill Reauthorizing Key Science Agencies Passes Subcommittee

April 10, 2014 | On March 13, the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology favorably reported HR 4186, the FIRST Act (Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology), by a voice vote. The FIRST Act would reauthorize the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), plus a number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs across the science agencies. It would also provide authorization of funding for NSF and NIST in FY 2014 and FY 2015.

Kristin Mooney and Melissa Burt at NSF GEO workshop, UCAR, March 2014
Kristin Mooney (NCAR) and Melissa Burt (Colorado State University) share notes at a  workshop held in Boulder on March 19–21 for principal investigators from the geosciences in NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. (©UCAR. Photo by Bob Henson.)

Written by the House Science Committee majority, the bill would authorize funding for NSF at $7.172 billion in FY 2014 and $7.280 billion in FY 2015, which would amount to more-or-less flat funding relative to FY 2013 levels. Within NSF, the bill would authorize funding for the Geosciences Directorate at $1.266 billion for FY 2014 and FY 2015, a nearly 3 percent cut from FY 2013 levels. The Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate would see steep cuts of over 40 percent from FY 2013.

These funding authorizations are a far cry from the doubling path over ten years on which the America COMPETES Acts of 2007 and 2010 put the science agencies.  While the authorization of funds by Congress is not final or binding, it serves as a guideline for congressional appropriators in determining yearly allocations of funds.

In addition, the bill would introduce several new statutory requirements for the approval of NSF grants and cooperative agreements, requiring that NSF certify that each individual grant and cooperative agreement is “in the national interest” and that each has the potential to meet six NSF-mission-oriented criteria. Another section requires publications resulting from research funded by the federal government to be made available and accessible to the public after a two-year embargo, which could be extended to up to three years. That same section requires that the data used in publications resulting from research funded by the federal government be made available and accessible to the public within 60 days of publication.

NIST headquarters, Gaithersburg, MD
The FIRST Act would reauthorize the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST),  which is based in Gaithersburg, Maryland (above) and Boulder, Colorado. (©Robert Rathe.)

The research community, led by the Coalition for National Science Funding, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Association of Universities and joined by over one hundred scientific associations and societies, including UCAR, quickly responded with a joint letter (PDF) opposing the funding levels in the bill, stating the allocations for basic research are well below the rate of inflation.

The bill will be considered again by the full House Science Committee in upcoming weeks. UCAR is on record opposing the legislation as it currently stands and is urging the House Science Committee to return to the drawing board to write an NSF reauthorization bill that is bipartisan and can gain widespread approval from the scientific and university community.


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