The American Competes Reauthorization Act of 2015 was passed by a split House of Representatives Wednesday, amid opposition from a wide swath of the scientific community. The passage also came after hours of negotiations over the bill, which Republicans have said would keep overall federal spending flat – while opponents have said would constrain how the National Science Foundation would be able to spend that money.
“H.R. 1806 prioritizes basic research and development while staying within the caps set by the Budget Control Act,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chairman of the House’s Committee on Science, Space and Technology. “Real priorities require marking choices. H.R. 1806 proves that we can set priorities, make tough choices and still invest more in breakthrough research and innovation.”
“While supporters of this bill may suggest that they are supporting science, this flawed legislation simply adds additional constraints on agencies while redirecting and/or decreasing critical funds,” wrote Andrew Rosenberg and Michelle Robinson, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, in opposition. “The legislation even goes so far as to prevent federal agencies from using the best available science as they carry out their respective missions.”
“The America COMPETES Act is anti-science, anti-innovation and caters to special interests,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), in a statement after the bill’s passage.
The bill raises overall scientific funding levels, from $7.3 billion to $7.6 billion in 2016, according to reports.
Johnson, also a member of the House science committee, presented 28 letters from scientific groups on April 22. She said she doubted its ever becoming law – but said it would have drastic consequences if it did.
“It is a tragedy in waiting,” the congresswoman said in opening statements on the bill. “I’m genuinely baffled. If the very scientists and engineers you wrote this bill for want nothing to do with it, why are we even here today?”
The America COMPETES Act was originally passed in 2007 with the support of the scientific community at large. It was renewed in 2010.
Smith and key Republicans tout that the new version of the Act increase basic energy research funds at the Department of Energy, as well as some biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, engineering and mathematics research, they said in a statement. To offset those increase, they cut programs on lower priority research, late-stage technology development, and some better left to the private sector, they said.
The American Psychological Association said the part of the NSF dealing with their work – the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate – would be slashed by 45 percent.
“Rolling back science – and drastically cutting support for entire disciplines of science in a time when multidisciplinary approaches are critically needed – imperils the U.S. capacity to remain globally competitive while other nations pour enormous resources into research,” wrote Heather O’Beirne Kelly, of the APA.
H.R. 1806 also includes a provision requiring the National Science Foundation to provide simplified language explaining how each project serves the “national interest,” Smith added in his statement.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 217-205.
Filed Under: Drug Discovery