House Science Committee Advances “National Interest” Bill and Dyslexia Legislation

On October 8, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee advanced two bills that would impact the National Science Foundation (NSF): the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act (H.R. 3293) and the Research Excellence and Advancements for Dyslexia (READ) Act (H.R. 3033). Read on for details.

The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act, sponsored by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), was derived from Sec. 106 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806), which passed the House in May despite strong and vocal opposition from the broad scientific research community.  H.R. 3293 seeks to set a definition for federally-funded research conducted in the “national interest.” As Chairman Smith noted during the mark up, the bill is intended to ensure that NSF is funding “only high priority research.”  He then included for the record a list of NSF grants that, despite making it through NSF’s highly regarded merit review process, the Chairman argued were not worth taxpayer support.

The bill passed by voice vote, but not before a number of Committee Democrats expressed their concern and opposition.  Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) asserted that the bill continues the majority’s “political review” of research projects at NSF and that the Chairman is using “his own subjective definition” of national interest.  She added that the bill sends a message to the scientific community: “don’t take risks.” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) also spoke in opposition to the bill, noting that “we [Members of Congress] are not the gold standard” when it comes to review of scientific research; that should be left to the NSF merit review process.  Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), the only scientist on the committee, added that the bill assumes that NSF’s merit review process is broken, which it is not.  COSSA issued a statement on the bill in July.

The Committee also passed the READ Act, which would require NSF to spend $5 million annually on the science of dyslexia using already appropriated funds.  An amendment was offered by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) to authorize $5 million in new funding as opposed to requiring funding from existing amounts, but the amendment failed by voice vote.

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