Congressional Committees Hold Hearings on NSF, STEM Education

March 2017

Earlier this month, House and Senate committees held hearings on issues related to education research funding.

In the House, the Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology held two hearings on the National Science Foundation (NSF). The first, on March 9, “Overview and Oversight,” focused on general information about the role of NSF in supporting basic research.  France Córdova, director of NSF, and Allison Lerner, NSF’s inspector general, testified.

In her opening statement, Córdova remarked, “the [American Innovation and Competitiveness Act] provides a useful blueprint for NSF’s continued critical contributions to the development of a skilled and diverse STEM workforce, and we appreciate your recognition of the leadership role expected of the agency in providing an evidence base for the improvement of STEM education through continued integration of science and education, and coordination with colleagues across agencies.”

The second hearing, “Future Opportunities and Challenges for Science,” held on March 21, covered issues ranging from interdisciplinary projects to research reproducibility and building a STEM-capable workforce. Subcommittee members heard testimony from Joan Ferrini-Mundy, acting chief operating officer for NSF; Maria Zuber, chair of the National Science Board; Jeffrey Spies, co-founder and chief technology officer, Center for Open Science, and assistant professor at the University of Virginia; and Keith Yamamoto, vice chancellor for science policy and strategy, University of California, San Francisco.

In his opening remarks, subcommittee ranking member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) spoke to concerns on potential shifting of funds from the NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate to other directorates for interdisciplinary research.

“If SBE research were only to be supported as an add-on to projects, the quality of the research would inevitably suffer,” said Lipinski.

In response to Zuber’s testimony, subcommittee Chair Barbara Comstock (R-VA) stated support for maintaining the investment in NSF.

In the Senate on March 15, the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee convened a hearing on “STEM Education: Preparing Students for the Careers of Today and the Future.” The hearing covered programs under the purview of the committee that directly support STEM education programs, including initiatives like the National Institutes of Health’s Science Education Partnership Award, and resources, like Pell grants, that support students pursuing STEM degrees.

Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) asked how school districts could support the development and retention of STEM teachers, while Joe Manchin (D-WV) asked witnesses about the roles career and technical education programs and community colleges play in developing STEM workers.

Witnesses included Sarah Tucker, chancellor, West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education; Larry Plank, director of K-12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, Hillsborough County Public Schools; Neil Lamb, vice president for educational outreach,

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology; and Caroline King, chief policy and strategy officer, Washington STEM.