Last-Ditch Effort to Pass “COMPETES” Legislation Falls Short

In a last-minute show of bipartisanship, the Senate passed the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084) before adjourning for the year. However, given that the House had already effectively adjourned for the remainder of the 114th Congress, the bill will not become law this year. It may resurface early in the next Congress; however, given all of the questions surrounding the incoming Trump Administration, future consideration is not guaranteed.

Before the House adjourned, House and Senate Committees had been quietly conferencing S. 3084 with the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1806) over the last several weeks. As previously reported, the original version of the House bill aimed to pick winners and losers among the sciences supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), with a hefty cut slated for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE), among other challenging provisions. The Senate bill, on the other hand, was largely seen as a counterpoint to the House bill for its much more positive and forward-looking provisions. Despite the many differences between S. 3084 and H.R. 1806, negotiators were able to find common ground on a variety of science policy provisions covering topics such as the merit review process, STEM education, and administrative burden, among others. It is important to note that while the original purpose of both bills was to authorize funding for NSF for the years ahead, agreement could not be reached on overall levels and therefore negotiators elected to keep numbers out the bill. That means that NSF’s authorization is still expired (since 2013) and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee (under the leadership of Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX)) may very well introduce another NSF authorization bill in the next Congress.

The compromise bill used the Senate bill as a base and included various provisions that originated in the House bill. In general, the compromise would not have harmed NSF’s ability to support research across all scientific disciplines, including social and behavioral science. The most controversial provisions of the earlier House bill had been negotiated away. Still, House negotiators were able to achieve some language continuing the mantra for defining “national interest.” For example, the bill reads “…the Foundation has improved transparency and accountability of the outcomes made through the merit review process, but additional transparency into individual grants is valuable in communicating and assuring the public value of federally funded research.” It goes on to state, “the Foundation should commit to transparency and accountability and to clear, consistent public communication regarding the national interest for each Foundation-awarded grant…” Check out the bill for additional information.

Again, the bill passed in the Senate under unanimous consent on December 10, but time ran out in the House; it will not become law this year. COSSA will report on efforts to enact NSF legislation in the next Congress.

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