FROM THE ARCHIVES: Congress Passes Competitiveness Legislation (August 6, 2007)

In celebration of COSSA’s 40th anniversary, we are diving into the decades of Washington Update archives to share articles from years past that resonate with today’s news.

Culminating a two-year effort, on August 2 Congress cleared the America COMPETES Act. Combining many aspects of House and Senate legislation that traveled through both bodies in 2006 and 2007, the over 450 page bill includes provisions affecting the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Department of Energy, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Education (DOE), and the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP). As a number of House Members noted during the debate on the House-Senate conference report, this is only an authorization bill and many of the funding levels may not be provided by the appropriators. Nonetheless, House Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) led this successful effort through many mine fields during its route to passage.

The NSF portion of the legislation reauthorizes the agency for three years at funding levels that will keep the agency on a path to double its budget in seven years. The bill particularly increases authorization levels for K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education by increasing funding for scholarship programs to train and retrain math and science teachers and by further encouraging math and science partnerships between universities and elementary and secondary schools. The legislation also provides for expansion of the Graduate Fellowship program, the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, and the early career grants program (CAREER), and creates a new pilot program of seed grants for outstanding new investigators.

In addition, the bill includes provisions to help broaden participation in STEM fields at all levels. It requests a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report to identify barriers to and opportunities for increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.

The bill resists calls for open access within a certain time period as required in the bill appropriating FY 2008 funds for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (see Update June, 25, 2007). The COMPETES bill simply says that the NSF Director shall ensure that “final project reports and citations resulting from research funded…are made available to the public in a timely manner and in electronic form through the Foundation’s Web site.” It does, however, cut off subsequent grants to investigators who fail to share their data within a reasonable time as required by Section 734 of the NSF Grants Manual.

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