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House Introduces Controversial R&D Investment Reauthorization Bill

Legislation would authorize below-inflation funding increases for NSF, NIST

by Andrea Widener
March 17, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 11

Despite strong opposition from the scientific community, Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas) introduced a bill last week that recommends essentially flat funding for the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards & Technology and allows what many science advocates see as political interference with the agencies’ independence.

The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science & Technology (FIRST) Act (H.R. 4186) would authorize funding increases for NSF and NIST through 2015 that don’t keep pace with inflation. “The bill does little to close this nation’s innovation deficit, but it also does some things to widen it,” the Association of American Universities said in a statement.

One provision in the bill would require an NSF official to personally affirm that grant awards are in the national interest. Another would give Congress more control over funding for individual NSF directorates—including authorizing a 40% cut for the social, behavioral, and economic sciences in 2015.

The bill also includes a provision on open access that advocates say would roll back progress on making federally funded research freely available to the public. The change would, among other things, lengthen the time that federal research can stay behind a paywall from one year to three years.

Past science reauthorization bills have usually garnered bipartisan support. This time, however, that seems unlikely given the content of the bill.


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