Gov Relations

Congress looks to reauthorize America COMPETES

NSF/NCAR C-130 aircraft at TOPSE Field Projectt
The NSF/NCAR C-130 aircraft on the tarmac in Churchill, Manitoba, near the Arctic Circle in Canada, during the TOPSE field experiment. (©UCAR. Photo by James Hannigan, NCAR.)

November 21, 2014 | In 2007, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the America COMPETES Act (America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science). This bill responded to a highly influential National Academy of Sciences report chaired by Norman Augustine (retired CEO of Lockheed Martin) and titled Rising Above the Gathering Storm. The report channeled widespread concern that the U.S. was falling behind its international competitors in basic research, innovation, and education that has historically fueled economic growth, prosperity, and well-being in our country.

The America COMPETES Act of 2007 authorized funding levels for NSF, NIST, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science on a doubling path over 10 years. During the authorization period for America COMPETES, NSF’s budget rose 16 percent, from $5.9 billion in FY 2007 to $6.8 billion in FY 2011, a sizable increase but short of the doubling path over a decade that had been intended. The America COMPETES Act was reauthorized in 2010 and signed into law by President Obama, reaffirming the doubling track for NSF, NIST, and the DOE Office of Science over a decade. However, Congress again did not appropriate the recommended funds, and many provisions are set to expire this year. Following major budget cuts and sequestration since 2011, it is clear that NSF, NIST, and the DOE Office of Science have fallen off the doubling track envisioned in 2007.

This year, House and Senate committees have taken steps toward a third reauthorization of the America COMPETES legislation. Both the House and Senate have held hearings on reauthorization in the last month, and the majority and minority on the House Science Committee have released alternative draft proposals.

The House Republican plan splits America COMPETES into two separate bills:

  • The draft FIRST Act (Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology) would reauthorize NSF, NIST, and STEM education programs. Unlike America COMPETES (2007 and 2010), FIRST does not yet contain a specific authorization of appropriations.  Committee staff suggest that once the ongoing budget negotiations conclude, they will be in a better position to decide on authorization funding levels for NSF, NIST, or STEM education programs.
  • The EINSTEIN Act (Enabling Innovation for Science, Technology, and Energy in America), would reauthorize the DOE Office of Science. It calls for DOE Office of Science funding increases below the rate of inflation (~2 percent), while making cuts to energy research programs.

In a discussion draft by House Democrats:

  • America COMPETES would authorize a 5 percent increase to NSF, NIST, and DOE’s Office of Science and continue the energy research programs.

While the Senate Commerce Committee has not introduced reauthorization legislation yet, it held a hearing on the matter on November 16. During that hearing, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who co-sponsored the original America COMPETES Act in 2007, pointed out that China has committed 4 percent of its gross domestic product to scientific research—four times more than the U.S. invests in “brain power.” He stated that if the United States wants to continue to enjoy a high standard of living, we need to “finish the job we started in 2007.”

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