Bridges vol. 41, October 2014 / Bills In Brief
By Sara Spizzirri, Erin Heath, Daniel Osborn, and Matt Hourihan from AAAS and Richard M. Jones from AIP
This BRIDGES Bills in Brief is brought to you, in part, by the “Science and Technology in Congress” newsletter, a publication of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Congress, covering the latest science-related news on Capitol Hill. The FYI Bulletin from the American Institute for Physics (AIP) supplemented the content.
Congress Tackles Administrative Burden
On June 12, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s oversight and research panels held a joint hearing on “Reducing Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research.” The hearing was held as a result of the March 2014 National Science Board report on the topic. The witnesses, which included Dr. Arthur Bienenstock, chairman of the NSB’s Task Force on Administrative Burdens; Dr. Susan Wyatt Sedwick, president of the Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP) Foundation; Dr. Gina Lee-Glauser, vice president of research at Syracuse University; and Allison Lerner, inspector general of the National Science Foundation (NSF), represented stakeholders affected by changes in oversight of federally funded research.
Executive Actions Support Obama’s Science Agenda
In an effort to circumvent a deadlocked Congress, President Obama has issued a number of executive actions to advance his science policy goals. After the DREAM Act immigration bill stalled in 2012, the President issued the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows undocumented individuals in the United States to become eligible for employment authorization (though not permanent residency) if they are under 31 years old. This step toward immigration reform may allow undocumented residents with science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) degrees or careers to stay in the country and continue to support the American STEM workforce.
Most recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposed rule to reduce carbon emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, as directed by the President’s executive actions contained in his Climate Action Plan. The rule would allow each state to implement a plan that works best for its economy and energy mix, and has been a source of controversy on Capitol Hill; members of Congress and other stakeholders are already engaged in a heated debate as to whether the EPA has authority (through the Clean Air Act) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
The House passed several S&T bills in July. These include the Department of Energy Laboratory Modernization and Technology Transfer Act (H.R. 5120), which would establish a pilot program for commercializing technology over a two-year period; a two-year reauthorization (H.R. 5035) for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which would authorize funding for NIST at $856 million for FY 2015; the Research and Development Efficiency Act (H.R. 5056), which would establish a working group through the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to make recommendations on streamlining federal regulations affecting research; the International Science and Technology Cooperation Act (H.R. 5029), which would establish a body under the NSTC to coordinate international science and technology cooperative research and training activities and partnerships; the STEM Education Act (H.R. 5031), which would support existing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs at the National Science Foundation and define STEM to include computer science; and the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act (H.R. 1786) to reauthorize the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program. A modified version of the Securing Energy Critical Elements and American Jobs Act of 2014 (H.R. 1022), which would authorize $25 million annually from FY 2015 to FY 2019 to support a Department of Energy (DOE) research and development program for energy-critical elements, failed the House on July 22.
Following months of debate in the House, members of the Senate, led by Sen. John D. Rockefeller, chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, have released their own America COMPETES reauthorization bill. The bill would authorize significant multi-year funding increases for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Standards and Technology, while avoiding the changes to NSF peer review and the cuts to social science funding proposed by the House Science Committee in the FIRST Act. With the short legislative calendar, progress on the bill is unlikely in the near term.
On July 25, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee approved legislation, the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act (H.R. 2996), that would establish a network of public-private institutes focusing on innovation in advanced manufacturing, involving both industry and academia. The creation of such a network has long been a goal of the Administration, and a handful of pilot institutes have already been established. A companion bill (S. 1468) awaits action in the Senate.
On July 24, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who chairs both the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees National Institutes of Health funding (NIH), introduced the Accelerate Biomedical Research Act (S. 2658). The bill would prioritize NIH funding by allowing a budget cap adjustment through the remainder of the fiscal years covered by the Budget Control Act of 2011, that being FY 2015 to FY 2021. The bill maintains a budget of at least $29.9 billion for NIH, and would empower Congress to boost the agency’s budget each year (by 10 percent each of the first two years and 5 percent each year thereafter) until FY 2021, when it would hit as much as $46.2 billion.
On July 16, eight Senators, including Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY), introduced a companion bill (S. 2613) to the House Secret Science Reform Act (H.R. 4012) which passed the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee along party lines on June 24. The bill would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments unless all underlying data were reproducible and made publicly available.
On June 26, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Daniel Coats (R-IN) introduced the TRANSFER Act (S. 2551). The legislation is a companion to a House bill (H.R. 2981) originally introduced last year by Reps. Chris Collins (R-NY) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and would create a grant funding program within the Small Business Technology Transfer program “to accelerate the commercialization of federally-funded research.” The grants would fund efforts such as proof of concept of translational research, prototype construction, and market research.
The Department of Energy Research and Development Act (H.R. 4869), introduced in the House by Rep. Cynthia Lummis on June 13, would authorize for the Office of Science a 5.1 percent increase above FY 2014 levels, while ARPA-E would be cut by 14.3 percent, and the Fossil Energy R&D program would remain flat. In the subcommittee's summary, Section 115 "directs the Director to carry out a program on biological systems science prioritizing fundamental research on biological systems and genomics science and requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to identify duplicative climate science initiatives across the federal government. Section 115 limits the Director from approving new climate science-related initiatives unless the Director makes a determination that such work is unique and not duplicative of work by other federal agencies. This section also requires the Director to cease all climate science-related initiatives identified as duplicative in the GAO assessment unless the Director determines such work to be critical to achieving American energy independence."
On June 9, the House passed the NASA Authorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 4412), which authorizes funding at $17.65 billion for FY 2014 and authorizes programs including the Space Launch System, the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle, the commercial crew program, and the International Space Station.
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