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House Passes Science Bill

Legislation: Third time's the charm for the measure to bolster science research, education, and innovation

by Susan R. Morrissey
June 7, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 23

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that keeps three key basic science agencies on a budget-doubling path and reinforces federal support for science education and innovation. After two failed attempts over two-and-a-half weeks, the House passed the America Competes Reauthorization Act (H.R. 5116) by a vote of 260 to 150 on May 28.

Credit: Shutterstock
H.R. 5116 includes support for science education at all school levels.
Credit: Shutterstock
H.R. 5116 includes support for science education at all school levels.

“Today, we took the action necessary to see consideration of this bill completed,” said the bill’s author, House Science & Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.). The original bill, signed by President George W. Bush in 2007 and set to expire this fall, aimed to strengthen the U.S.’s global competitiveness and leadership in innovation through investments in science research and education.

Although the goal of the act has broad bipartisan support, Republicans opposed this reauthorization bill on the basis of its estimated $86 billion price tag. Led by House Science & Technology Committee ranking minority member Ralph M. Hall (Texas), they tried unsuccessfully to shorten the reauthorization term and to cut some of the programs the bill authorized (C&EN Online Latest News, May 14).

“While I am glad we were finally able to reauthorize many of the important research and education programs in this bill, the bill that passed today spends too much money, authorizes duplicative programs, and shifts focus away from the bill’s original intent,” Hall said in a May 28 statement.

The approved reauthorization bill keeps research budgets for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards & Technology on track to double over a 10-year period, concluding in 2017. Specifically, H.R. 5116 authorizes funding levels for these agencies for the next five years; congressional appropriators will still need to allocate the money each year.

Additionally, the bill will support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education by helping coordinate federal activities and improving education at all levels. And to foster innovation, H.R. 5116 reauthorizes DOE’s high-risk energy technology development program—the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy—and authorizes DOE’s collaborative Energy Innovation Hubs.

H.R. 5116 includes provisions beyond authorizing budgets and programs. For instance, one provision reorganizes NIST labs to reflect the multidisciplinary nature of technology. Another provision requires NSF’s director to establish a policy to use at least 5% of the agency’s research budget to fund high-risk, high-reward basic-research proposals. And a public-access provision directs the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy to set up a working group to “coordinate federal science agency research and policies related to the dissemination and long-term stewardship of the results of unclassified research.”

The passed bill had more than 100 cosponsors and the support of more than 750 organizations, including the American Chemical Society.

“ACS is very pleased that this blueprint to foster U.S. innovation and enhance competitiveness was adopted by the House,” says Glenn S. Ruskin, director of the ACS Office of Public Affairs. “This bill addresses many ACS priorities such as supporting growth of federal R&D funding and strengthening STEM education, all critical to the future success of U.S. global competiveness.” Ruskin notes, however, that ACS is concerned that the open-access provision “does not adequately address publishers’ concerns about the sustainability of peer review and the scientific publishing enterprise.”

H.R. 5116 now moves to the Senate for consideration.


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