Blog Archives

Congress Returns this Week for Short, Packed Work Period

The House and Senate return to Washington this week from their month-long August recess. They have only a couple of weeks to address a number of major policy issues, such as immigration, the child migrant crisis on the border, and ongoing foreign conflicts, before both chambers adjourn again until after the November midterm elections. Among the to-dos in the coming weeks is consideration of a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the federal government operating into fiscal year (FY) 2015, which begins on October 1. The outcome of the elections weighs heavily on potential end-game strategies for the FY 2015 appropriations bills, with much hinging on whether the Democrats maintain control of the Senate or lose the majority to the Republicans.

For a recap on the current status of the FY 2015 appropriations bills important to the COSSA community, please see the August 11, 2014 COSSA Washington Update.

Back to this issue’s table of contents.

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Posted in Issue 16 (September 8), Update, Volume 33 (2014)

COSSA Analysis of FY 2015 Senate Labor-HHS Bill

On July 24, the Senate Appropriations Committee released bill language and the accompanying Committee report for the fiscal year (FY) 2015 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Appropriations bill. The Labor-HHS Subcommittee approved the bill via voice vote in June (see Update, June 12, 2014). It is still unclear when or if the measure will be considered by the full Senate Appropriations Committee. Instead, it is all but certain that Congress will enact a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to allow time to complete the FY 2015 appropriations process after the November elections.

You can read COSSA’s full analysis of the bill here.

 

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NIGMS Issues Challenge / Seeks Input on Proposed New Grant Program

Two requests from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) give social and behavioral scientists the opportunity to provide input:

  1. To highlight discoveries and breakthroughs that have been enabled by funding from the Institute, and
  2. Respond to  its time-sensitive Request for Information (RFI) to assist the Institute in its planning for a potential new program tentatively called Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA).

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Draft COMPETES/NSF Bill Released in the Senate

Late last week, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee released a draft of its America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014.  The Committee is seeking comment from interested organizations by this Friday, July 25, which can be sent to committee staff. COSSA intends to support the legislation.

The America COMPETES Act is bipartisan legislation originally enacted in 2007 and reauthorized in 2010 to revitalize the U.S. scientific enterprise by making critical investments in U.S. basic science agencies.  These investments were intended to ensure the U.S.’s continued standing as the global leader in science and technology innovation.  COMPETES serves as authorizing legislation for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and federal STEM education programs.

The draft Senate bill is a major improvement over its House counterpart, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology Act, or FIRST Act (H.R. 4186), which was reported out of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in May.  As previously reported, the FIRST Act is of major concern to the research community for several reasons; particularly its intent to cut the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate at NSF by more than 40 percent and, more generally, for its lack of vision for the U.S. scientific enterprise.

Increased NSF Funding

Unlike the FIRST Act, the Senate draft would maintain current practice when it comes to funding NSF, which is to not provide specific authorization levels for NSF’s individual research directorates.  Instead, the Senate bill provides an authorization only for NSF’s top-line budget and high level subaccounts.  For fiscal year (FY) 2015, the Senate bill would authorize an NSF budget of $7.65 billion, which if appropriated, would be an increase of more than 6.5 percent over the FY 2014 level.  It also represents a 5 percent increase over the amount authorized for NSF in the FIRST Act.  Further, while the FIRST Act would only authorize NSF for FY 2014 (the current fiscal year) and FY 2015, the Senate bill seeks a five-year authorization, with the NSF budget growing by more than 6.5 percent each year to a total of $9.9 billion by FY 2019.

Support for Social, Behavioral and Economic Science

In addition to the positive proposed funding levels, the draft Senate bill maintains the Committee’s support for all areas of science, placing specific emphasis on the social and behavioral sciences.  It includes a number of examples of social science investments that have addressed societal challenges, including in medicine, policing, national defense, and disaster preparedness, and states that it is the sense of Congress that, “if the United States is to remain innovative and globally competitive, [NSF] must continue to meet its legislative mandate through… robust support for basic research across a wide range of science and engineering fields, including the social, behavioral, and economic sciences.”

Senate Commerce Committee Hearing

Prior to the release of the draft COMPETES bill, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing titled, “The Federal Research Portfolio: Capitalizing on Investments in R&D,” to receive testimony on the value of investment in NSF and other federal science agencies.  Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) noted during the hearing that “Congress has no business deciding which projects are worth federal funding,” referring to recent Republican attacks on specific grants and adding that scientists and the peer review process should be trusted to make such decisions.

Witnesses included Dr. Vinton G. Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google and member of the National Science Board; Ms. Mariette DiChristina, Editor in Chief and Senior Vice President for Scientific American; Dr. Neal F. Lane, Senior Fellow and professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University, and Co-Chair of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences Committee on New Models for U.S. Science and Technology Policy; and Dr. Stephen E. Fienberg, Maurice Falk University Professor of Statistics and Social Science at Carnegie Mellon University and member of the National Research Council Committee on Assessing the Value of Research in Advancing National Goals.  Witnesses spoke about the federal government’s unique role in supporting and sustaining R&D investments, particularly given that industry often shies away from funding basic science.  In addition, they spoke of the importance of failure in research, noting that understanding the reason for failure can often be more valuable than positive results.  Dr. Cerf explained that the Internet took 10 years of research, and failure, before becoming operational.

A webcast of the hearing and witness testimony can be found on the Committee’s website.

Looking Ahead

The outlook for further action on NSF reauthorization legislation this year remains unknown.  The FIRST Act has not yet received a vote by the full House, although a number of noncontroversial components of the bill were stripped out and passed as standalone bills last week (STEM Education Act [H.R. 5031], Research and Development Efficiency Act [H.R. 5056], and International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2014 [H.R. 5029]).  It is not yet clear if/when the Senate Commerce Committee will introduce its bill and mark it up.  In addition, the House and Senate are preparing to leave town for their month-long August recess in a couple of weeks, and the November elections leave few remaining legislative days.

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FY 2015 Spending Bills May Wait for the Lame Duck

As the Congressional August recess approaches in just a few weeks, it has become all but certain that a continuing resolution (CR) will be enacted to push work on the fiscal year (FY) 2015 appropriations bills to after the November midterm elections. The House and Senate are likely to be consumed with the President’s proposals for supplemental funding to address the migrant child crisis and wildfires out west during the scant remaining summer workdays, leaving little time to advance any of the FY 2015 spending measures before the new fiscal year begins on October 1. Despite Senate leadership’s promise to dedicate two weeks in July for debate on the appropriations bills, the bills are not included on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) “to do list” for the balance of the month. While neither chamber has acknowledged a CR publicly, we are likely to see one passed that will place the appropriations bills on hold until after the elections to allow enough time for Members to head home for a final stretch of campaigning.

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Posted in Issue 13 (July 14), Update, Volume 33 (2014)