Senate Bill Would Provide Boost to NSF

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August 2014

In late July, Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller (D-WV), chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, introduced the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014. The bill will reauthorize funding and programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other science agencies. It is noticeably different in tone and language from the FIRST Act, the NSF reauthorization bill advanced by the House Science Committee in May.

AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine emphasized the importance of the Senate COMPETES bill: “In this year in which science has been needlessly attacked, it is refreshing to see a reauthorization bill that recognizes what it takes to support scientific research. The bill values the high standards of the merit and peer review processes that NSF has advanced for decades.”

The Senate COMPETES bill is noteworthy for both what it does and what it does not do, compared to the FIRST Act. The bill:

  • Authorizes substantial year-over-year increases in NSF funding for the next five years;
  • Does not authorize funding by directorate (with the exception of the Education and Human Resources Directorate, which traditionally receives a separate line in authorization and appropriations bills);
  • Does not reduce funding for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Sciences or Geosciences directorates, and instead emphasizes the contributions of social and behavioral sciences; and
  • Does not legislate specific conditions for funding research proposals, but highlights the “Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts” criteria that NSF uses to evaluate research proposals.

The FIRST Act would provide an increase in NSF authorization levels that was larger than President Obama’s request but not large enough to keep pace with inflation. Of particular concern is that the FIRST bill would authorize funding by directorate, resulting in proposed cuts to the SBE Directorate by 42%.

It is anticipated that the Senate’s version will be marked up by the full committee in September. However, given the limited number of days left in the congressional calendar, before and after the election, action by the Senate by the end of this year is uncertain.