As we have been reporting over the last several weeks, the U.S. House of Representatives has been busy considering legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, landmark legislation first enacted in 2007 to reignite U.S. investment in scientific research. It serves as authorizing legislation for the National Science Foundation (NSF), among other agencies. The House version of COMPETES reauthorization is a major departure from earlier versions, garnering deep opposition from the broader scientific community, including from COSSA. Among the many problematic provisions in the bill is language to cut NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) directorate by half. Despite widespread opposition, the House passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806) on May 20 by a narrow margin (217-205). The COMPETES bill now heads to the Senate, where we don’t expect to see any action until later in the summer or fall.
Also on May 20, the House Appropriations Committee passed the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations bill (H.R. 2578). This is annual legislation to appropriate funding to NSF, the Census Bureau, and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), among other federal agencies. COSSA’s analysis is available here. Despite efforts by Democratic appropriators to increase funding for NSF and the Census Bureau and otherwise improve the bill, it passed by voice vote. If enacted, this bill would further signal bad news for social science funding at NSF, Census, and NIJ. Regarding NSF, the cut to SBE could be potentially worse than the cuts proposed in the COMPETES bill. Instead of placing a spending cap on SBE funding like COMPETES seeks to do, the CJS bill would prioritize funding to non-SBE sciences, leaving very limited funds for SBE (and the geosciences). The CJS bill is being considered on the House floor this week and is likely to pass. COSSA issued a statement in opposition last week.
On June 1, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy, recommending that the President veto the bill. In its section on NSF, the statement highlights the cuts to SBE and the geosciences: “Especially hard hit by this reduction would be the geosciences and social, behavioral, and economic sciences, which would be reduced by 20 percent. The Committee’s allocation of resources to specific disciplines would interfere with NSF’s ability to respond to scientific opportunity.” The Senate may begin consideration of its CJS spending bill next week; we expect the Senate bill to take a different approach from the House bill.