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Innovation Legislation Signed into Law

As previously reported, lawmakers worked in the final weeks of 2016 to find common ground on research innovation legislation, known as the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084), before adjourning for the year. The bill passed the Senate in early December, but did not get a House vote before lawmakers headed home for the holidays. However, given that the House had not yet officially adjourned for the year, the bill was quietly passed on December 16 in pro forma session along with a number of other bills under suspension of the rules. President Obama signed the bill into law on January 6, 2017.

The resulting law includes variety of science policy provisions covering topics such as the National Science Foundation’s merit review process, STEM education, and administrative burden, among others. In general, it is a positive bill for research, especially compared to earlier versions considered in the House. It is important to note, however, that while the original purpose of earlier legislation in the House and Senate was to authorize funding for NSF for the years ahead, agreement could not be reached on overall levels and therefore negotiators elected to keep numbers out the bill. That means that NSF’s authorization is still expired (since 2013) and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee (under the leadership of Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX)) may very well introduce another NSF authorization bill in the new Congress. COSSA will continue to follow such efforts.

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Posted in Issue 1 (January 10), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Last-Ditch Effort to Pass “COMPETES” Legislation Falls Short

In a last-minute show of bipartisanship, the Senate passed the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084) before adjourning for the year. However, given that the House had already effectively adjourned for the remainder of the 114th Congress, the bill will not become law this year. It may resurface early in the next Congress; however, given all of the questions surrounding the incoming Trump Administration, future consideration is not guaranteed.

Before the House adjourned, House and Senate Committees had been quietly conferencing S. 3084 with the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1806) over the last several weeks. As previously reported, the original version of the House bill aimed to pick winners and losers among the sciences supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), with a hefty cut slated for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE), among other challenging provisions. The Senate bill, on the other hand, was largely seen as a counterpoint to the House bill for its much more positive and forward-looking provisions. Despite the many differences between S. 3084 and H.R. 1806, negotiators were able to find common ground on a variety of science policy provisions covering topics such as the merit review process, STEM education, and administrative burden, among others. It is important to note that while the original purpose of both bills was to authorize funding for NSF for the years ahead, agreement could not be reached on overall levels and therefore negotiators elected to keep numbers out the bill. That means that NSF’s authorization is still expired (since 2013) and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee (under the leadership of Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX)) may very well introduce another NSF authorization bill in the next Congress. (more…)

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Posted in Issue 23 (December 13), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

Congress Returns with Much Left Undone

Congress returns to work this week for one more stretch before the November elections. This will be the final work period before the current fiscal year (FY 2016) expires on September 30. That means some type of action is needed in the coming weeks to keep the federal government funded and operating come October 1. See COSSA’s analysis of the state of play of FY 2017 Appropriations bills for full details.

In addition to action on the annual spending bills (which will undoubtedly result in a continuing resolution punting final action to after the election), Congress will be looking to enact funding for the Zika crisis and a handful of other pressing issues over the next few weeks; these efforts will consume every available minute between now and the next recess. That means the 114th Congress is likely to adjourn at the end of the year with several bills impacting the social and behavioral sciences left on the table. This includes a number of authorization bills of consequence to the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and Institute of Education Sciences. COSSA summarizes the State of Play of Authorization Bills in an analysis released last month.

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Posted in Issue 17 (September 6), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

CNSF Releases Statement on American Innovation and Competitiveness Act

The Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), of which COSSA is an active member, released a statement on July 6 regarding the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084). This legislation, which was approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on June 29, includes language authorizing the National Science Foundation (NSF); check out COSSA’s analysis for full details. The CNSF statement highlights the important role of the NSF in the U.S. innovation and research enterprise and requests that the Senate extend the length of NSF’s authorization past the two years currently provided in the bill. CNSF also thanks the Senate for reaffirming the NSF’s peer review process, addressing the importance of broadening participation in science, and calling for changes to regulations to all researchers to spend less time attending to administrative requirements. The statement can be read here. A webcast of the Senate Commerce Committee markup of the bill is available here.

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Posted in Issue 14 (July 12), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

Senate Introduces “COMPETES” Reauthorization Bill

On June 22, Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Gary Peters (D-MI), John Thune (R-SD), and Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced the bipartisan American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084), which is the Senate’s version of America COMPETES Act reauthorization legislation. As COSSA has been reporting, the America COMPETES Act is legislation originally enacted in 2007 to bolster U.S. investment in basic scientific research at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other federal science agencies. The House’s efforts to reauthorize COMPETES took a negative turn in recent years, resulting in legislation that would decimate federal funding for social science research and dismantle the peer review process as we currently know it. In contrast, the bill introduced in the Senate last week looks to support—not undercut—NSF’s grant-making infrastructure.

The Senate bill is scheduled to be marked up by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on June 29.  Read on for highlights of S. 3084.

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Posted in Issue 13 (June 28), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

Senate Committee Discusses U.S. Science Investments; COMPETES Bill Expected Soon

On May 11, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing entitled, “Leveraging the U.S. Science and Technology Enterprise.”  The Committee heard from a panel of experts in science and engineering representing the university and private sectors. The hearing was designed to inform the Committee’s efforts as it works to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, which is legislation originally enacted in 2007 to bolster U.S. investment in basic scientific research. The Committee has oversight jurisdiction for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other basic science agencies.

Read on for full details and check out COSSA’s complete coverage of COMPETES legislation in the House and Senate.

Last year, Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) created a working group of committee members tasked with engaging the scientific community and crafting legislation akin to the original COMPETES bill. Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) chaired the working group, which hosted a number of roundtable discussions with stakeholders in 2015 (COSSA’s comments to the working group can be found here). Peters noted one common theme among the input received – modest, sustained and predictable investments in basic science are needed. Thune stated that a bill may be released in the coming days.

Kelvin Droegemeier, Vice President for Research at the University of Oklahoma and former Vice Chair of the National Science Board, made three recommendations for the Committee to consider when crafting legislation governing the U.S. scientific enterprise. First, the federal government should focus its investments on where it adds unique value, such as its support for basic science and innovation. Adding that there are “no sure bets” when it comes to determining which basic research investments will yield the next big innovation, Droegemeier warned against excluding support for any one discipline, such as the social and behavioral sciences. He used his own area of expertise in meteorology to illustrate an example of the value social and behavioral science research brings to human-centered challenges, such as responding (or not responding) to tornado warnings.

Second, Dr. Droegemeier suggested that legislation seek to reduce administrative burden associated with applying for and managing federal research grants, consistent with legislation currently being considered in the House and Senate and findings of the National Academies. Finally, he argued for science agency budgets to be more predictable so they may able to plan strategically for the future. COMPETES offers an opportunity to think big, even in times of budget constraints; it allows an opportunity to reinvest in basic research in all fields of science across the enterprise, Droegemeier added.

Jeanette Wing, Corporate Vice President for Research at Microsoft, testified on behalf of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which produced the report, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the America Dream.” The report offers a set of recommendations to achieve three objectives: (1) secure America’s leadership in science and engineering research—especially basic research—by providing sustainable federal funding and setting long term investment goals; (2) ensure that the American people receive the maximum benefit from federal investments in research; and (3) regain America’s standing as an innovation leader by establishing a more robust national government-university-industry research partnership. Among the recommendations is to provide annual real growth of at least 4 percent for U.S. basic research. It further calls for a reaffirmation of the merit-based peer review process and ensuring that research decisions are left to scientific experts and agencies (a reference to what has been happening in the House). She too noted the importance of social and behavioral science research, calling it “critical for understanding the challenges we face as a country.” She added that the business community supports all of the recommendations of the report, citing the statement “Innovation: An American Imperative,” which was endorsed by CEOs of major U.S. corporations and calls on the federal government to establish research as a national priority.

Robert Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), argued that it is “no longer enough to just fund scientific research,” stating that more efficiency is needed to ensure new knowledge is being translated into innovation. He argued for increased funding for manufacturing and commercialization and he endorsed the Manufacturing Universities Act of 2015 (S. 771), which would designate institutions of higher education as “manufacturing universities” eligible for targeted funding. He also called for reforms to the SBIR program and increased investment in the Manufacturing Extension Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, high performance computing, and STEM talent and high-skilled immigration, particularly computer science education.

David Munson, Dean of Engineering at the University of Michigan, suggested that the greatest inefficiency in the U.S. research system is the low funding rates at U.S. science agencies, which force researchers to spend a large fraction of their time writing proposals and away from their research. Noting that about one in three proposals submitted for funding are excellent and merit funding, increasing the NSF budget by 50 percent could bring the funding rate up from 20 percent to about one-third. Further, increased research budgets would drive down the number proposals being submitted, saving time and effort for both researchers and agency staff, thereby increasing efficiency.

Several of the questions from the Committee centered on research priority setting. Dr. Droegemeier endorsed NSF’s current process for prioritizing research investments, which considers national needs and input from the scientific community. He cautioned against picking winners among the scientific disciplines and instead highlighted the value of providing an opportunity for researchers to present their big ideas, regardless of discipline. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) went a step further and asked if all federal research is of equal value, adding that “the answer can’t be yes.” Dr. Atkinson, whose organization has be vocal about prioritizing certain research areas at the expense of others, responded by suggesting that not all research is equal and that a purely bottom up (i.e. PI-driven) approach to identifying research questions is not the way to go since some areas of research will have a bigger economic impact than others. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) added to this line of questioning by asserting that federal funding should be “guided by the possibilities promised by science and technology and not by politics,” pointing to the approach taken by the House Science Committee through its version of COMPETES. He added, “Legislation should support the full range of science inquiry.”

Another common question was about the role of the federal government versus private industry relative to basic research. According to Dr. Wing, the federal government’s unique role is to fund the basic research that can be later brought to market by industry. She added that basic research supported by the federal government produces the talent (i.e. workforce) that is needed by industry. Dr. Droegemeier added that basic research is unpredictable, high-risk, and uncertain, which are not attractive characteristics to industry, making it a necessary function of the federal government. Sen. Peters asked if it would be harmful to target funding to specific applications or purposes. Dr. Munson suggested a balanced approach, noting that we should not lose the basic nature of research, but that targeted investment in certain areas is warranted, such as manufacturing.

Members also asked questions about the STEM workforce, improving participation of women and underrepresented minorities in science, and better coordination of agency research activities.

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Posted in Issue 10 (May 17), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

House Science Committee Discusses FY 2017 NSF Budget; Social Science Highlighted

On March 22, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology held an oversight hearing to discuss the fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget request for the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF Director France Córdova and Chair of the National Science Board, Dan Arvizu, testified before the Subcommittee. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) chaired the hearing.

In his opening statement, Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), a PhD political scientist, expressed the importance getting more people to understand the critical role NSF plays, especially across all disciplines of science. In addition, and noting that the discussion could turn to the issue of priority setting among NSF’s research directorates, Lipinski quoted House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) who stated during his Subcommittee’s hearing last week that he does not wish to appropriate specific funding levels for each of NSF’s individual directorates, instead leaving the decision to the agency. That statement was directed at full Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who has been a vocal critic of federal support for social and behavioral science research and has called for major cuts to social and behavioral science research through his America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1806).

In contrast, Chairman Smith remained quiet during the hearing, noting that he had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Córdova privately earlier in the day, in which they “exchanged views” on a variety of topics. His only question during the hearing centered on the extent to which NSF prioritizes computer science, which is a pet interest for him. However, Smith’s written statement, which he submitted for the hearing record, continues his assault on social and behavioral science research projects funded by NSF, stating:

“Tight federal budget constraints require all taxpayer dollars to be spent on high value science in the national interest. Unfortunately, NSF has funded a number of projects that do not meet the highest standards of scientific merit – from a $500,000 grant to help amateurs create a video game called “Relive Prom Night” to $1.5 million for studying pasture management in Mongolia.”

Similar to her testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on March 16, Dr. Córdova started her prepared statement by discussing the recent ground-breaking detection of gravitational waves at LIGO, an NSF-supported facility, noting that the discovery is a product of decades of investment by NSF, a nod to the long-term nature of basic science investment and discovery.

On a less positive note, she discussed the ongoing decline of NSF’s funding rate, which now hovers just over 20 percent. Under NSF’s current budget, about $4 billion worth of grants that have been reviewed as “very good” to “excellent” go unfunded each year, which, as Dr. Córdova stated, is an invitation for researchers to leave the field. She testified that the President’s request for NSF would begin to address these challenges.

Dr. Arvizu discussed the National Science Board’s role in setting future science priorities, stressing the need for NSF to continue to push the frontiers of science if the U.S. is to remain a global innovation leader. Arvizu also expressed the Board’s support for social, behavioral, and economic sciences, noting that questions in the social and behavioral sciences are often “among the hardest to crack.”

Most of the questions from the committee centered on programs and research areas of personal interest, including STEM education, broadening participation in science, computer science, cybersecurity, among others. However, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-WA), in noting a visit she had with a private sector constituent as part of COSSA’s Social and Behavioral Science Advocacy Day last week, expressed her support for social and behavioral science research, including as it relates to private industry interests, and asked Dr. Córdova for examples of NSF-supported research in these fields that have made a difference. Córdova listed several examples, including measurement, data linkage, and integration of diverse sources of information (e.g. survey, mass media, and social media data), which is of importance to the Department of Defense in the area of situational awareness; understanding the social and behavioral responses to cybersecurity; and helping us respond better to natural and human-made disasters. She added that social and behavioral science is part of every cross-disciplinary initiative at NSF, which further shows the importance of these sciences to everything NSF does.

An archived webcast of the hearing and the witness’s written testimony can be found on the Subcommittee’s website.

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Posted in Issue 7 (April 5), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

“National Interest” Bill Passes the House

Despite opposition from many in the scientific community and a veto-threat from the White House, the House of Representatives passed the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act (H.R. 3293) on February 10 by a vote of 236-178. The bill, which is sponsored by Chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee Lamar Smith (R-TX), seeks to set a definition for federally-funded research conducted in the “national interest.” The language of the bill was derived from Sec. 106 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806), which passed the House in May despite wide-spread, vocal opposition from the broad scientific research community. Smith has argued that his bill is intended to ensure that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding “only high priority research.” While the bill text itself is benign, the intent of the legislation, as exemplified by the press release issued alongside it and subsequent remarks from the Chairman, is to continue singling out grants that Smith deems unworthy of taxpayer support, many in the social sciences. While the bill has now passed in the House, there is no indication that it will be considered this year in the Senate. COSSA issued a statement on the bill in July.

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Posted in Issue 4 (February 23), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

“National Interest” Bill Heads for House Vote

The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act (H.R. 3293), sponsored by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), is legislation that seeks to set a definition for federally-funded research conducted in the “national interest.” The language of the bill was derived from Sec. 106 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806), which passed the House in May despite strong and vocal opposition from the broad scientific research community. Smith has argued that his bill is intended to ensure that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding “only high priority research.” While the bill text itself is rather benign, the intent of the legislation, as exemplified by the press release issued alongside it, is to continue singling out grants that Smith deems unworthy of taxpayer support, many in the social sciences. The bill will head to the House floor a vote this week. Companion legislation does not exist in the Senate.

COSSA issued a statement  in July calling out the ideological motives behind the bill and urging that political review not become part of NSF’s merit review process.

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Posted in Issue 3 (February 9), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

House Science Committee Advances “National Interest” Bill and Dyslexia Legislation

On October 8, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee advanced two bills that would impact the National Science Foundation (NSF): the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act (H.R. 3293) and the Research Excellence and Advancements for Dyslexia (READ) Act (H.R. 3033). Read on for details.

The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act, sponsored by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), was derived from Sec. 106 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806), which passed the House in May despite strong and vocal opposition from the broad scientific research community.  H.R. 3293 seeks to set a definition for federally-funded research conducted in the “national interest.” As Chairman Smith noted during the mark up, the bill is intended to ensure that NSF is funding “only high priority research.”  He then included for the record a list of NSF grants that, despite making it through NSF’s highly regarded merit review process, the Chairman argued were not worth taxpayer support.

The bill passed by voice vote, but not before a number of Committee Democrats expressed their concern and opposition.  Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) asserted that the bill continues the majority’s “political review” of research projects at NSF and that the Chairman is using “his own subjective definition” of national interest.  She added that the bill sends a message to the scientific community: “don’t take risks.” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) also spoke in opposition to the bill, noting that “we [Members of Congress] are not the gold standard” when it comes to review of scientific research; that should be left to the NSF merit review process.  Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), the only scientist on the committee, added that the bill assumes that NSF’s merit review process is broken, which it is not.  COSSA issued a statement on the bill in July.

The Committee also passed the READ Act, which would require NSF to spend $5 million annually on the science of dyslexia using already appropriated funds.  An amendment was offered by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) to authorize $5 million in new funding as opposed to requiring funding from existing amounts, but the amendment failed by voice vote.

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Posted in Issue 19 (October 20), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

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