Friday, May 22, 2015

House Passes Bill to Gut Science & Research Funding

Yesterday, in addition to passing a deficit-funded corporate tax break for R&D, the House passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015, a funding bill for federal scientific programs that cut the National Science Foundation's funding for social behavior and economic sciences research by 55% compared to current enacted spending levels. It would also cut DOE's applied research programs in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by almost 30% and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy by 50% below fiscal 2015 levels.

Here is Representative Eddie B. Johnson (TX-30), the ranking Democrat on the Science and Technology Committee, laying out the many other flaws of the bill:
The Competes Act of 2007 was landmark bipartisan legislation that was based on the recommendations of the esteemed National Academies and was vetted with dozens of stakeholder organizations through a multi-month, transparent process. The Competes Reauthorization Act of 2010 went through a similar, transparent, bipartisan process. In contrast, H.R. 1806 was kept behind closed doors until less than a week before the full committee markup. There were no legislative hearings or subcommittee markups. Neither the agencies that are being authorized nor the stakeholder community at large had any opportunity to see it or to provide feedback. Bipartisan negotiations were limited to a few pages in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) title.
H.R. 1806 violates every one of the basic principles that underlay the original Competes Act. The Competes Acts of 2007 and 2010 sought to ensure America's continued scientific preeminence and to grow our innovation economy. In contrast, H.R. 1806 is preoccupied with questioning the motives of the National Science Foundation and the integrity of the scientists it funds. In addition, it would put up multiple roadblocks to progress in clean energy research and development (R&D), under the guise of preventing ``picking winners and losers'', even as H.R 1806 picks its own winners and losers.

The Competes Acts of 2007 and 2010 focused on reinforcing America's commitment to the sciences across the board. In contrast, H.R. 1806 seeks to pit different scientific disciplines against one another and to prevent research in fields to which the Majority is ideologically opposed.

The Competes Acts of 2007 and 2010 sought to provide sustainable increases for R and D. In contrast, H.R. 1806 would flat fund R&D overall and impose severe cuts in certain fields. The Competes Acts of 2007 and 2010 sought to attract a new generation of STEM researchers across all fields. In contrast, H.R. 1806 would impose funding cuts and policies that will discourage an entire generation of American students and researchers.
The Competes Acts of 2007 and 2010 received hundreds of endorsements from scientific organizations, universities, companies, and industry organizations. This time, even though they had only a few days to respond, a large number of significant organizations wrote to the Committee expressing concern or outright opposition to H.R. 1806. By the date of the markup we had already received 32 such letters representing well over 300 scientific organizations, universities, private companies, and retired military leaders.
Among those organizations expressing serious concern are the American Physical Society, the Computing Research Association, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Energy Sciences Coalition. It is notable that the very scientists and engineers for whom H.R. 1806 was supposedly written want nothing to do with it.
We even received a letter from the widely respected Secretary of Energy. This may well be the first time in the history of this Committee that a sitting Cabinet member has provided formal opposition to a piece of legislation that we are considering, certainly at this stage of the legislative process. That should be a strong indication of just how bad this bill really is.

H.R. 1806 arbitrarily provides increases to the natural sciences and engineering at the expense of the social, behavioral, and economic sciences (SBE), geosciences, prestigious fellowships for American graduate students, EPSCoR, international collaboration, and STEM education. The bill slashes funding for the SBE research by 55 percent from the FY 2015 level, even though NSF is the primary source of federal support for SBE sciences. Understanding human factors is essential to our economic and national security, public health, and the wellbeing of our society as we know it, and this severe cut will do lasting harm. H.R. 1806 cuts funding for the geosciences directorate (GEO) by 8 percent. GEO, in addition to funding work directly on climate sciences, has a broad portfolio that includes ocean sciences, natural hazards research, space weather, and the polar programs, every one of which is essential to this nation's national and economic security and wellbeing. The bill cuts EPSCoR and NSF graduate research fellowships by 11 percent. We do not agree with any of these cuts.

H.R. 1806 flat funds the Education and Human Resources directorate (EHR), despite the repeated rhetoric on the importance of STEM education and the significantly increased administrative burden placed on EHR as a result of several other provisions in the bill. That administrative burden compounds the loss of purchasing power inherent in flat funding.
Therefore, flat funding in this bill represents a cut, not just due to the impact of inflation. EHR funds rigorous research that improves STEM education and opportunities for all Americans. It must be fully funded. Finally, with respect to funding, H.R. 1806 flat funds the agency's operations account, putting into severe jeopardy the cost and schedule of NSF's new headquarters being built in Alexandria, Virginia.
A couple of the significant policy concerns in the NSF title were positively addressed during the markup; however concerns remain. Overall, ``heavy-handed oversight'' is a more fitting term than ``authorization'' to describe the NSF title, which does not follow the spirit of Competes.
There is room for improvement throughout the NSF title, but a few provisions stand out as being the most flawed. Specifically, Sec. 106 represents a misguided and potentially dangerous attempt to impose a level of political review on NSF's gold-standard merit-review system, thus encouraging researchers, peer-reviewers, and NSF program officers alike to play it safe, discouraging high-risk research and out-of-the-box thinking that is essential to the progress of science.
In another provision that is a solution in search of a problem, Sec. 116 would require public shaming of all NSF-funded investigators who are found to be guilty of research misconduct, independent of the nature or severity of the offense. This same provision also suggests that NSF should police misconduct in scientific publications, something that is impossible for them to do. Similarly, in another poorly conceived provision on research reproducibility, Sec. 117 largely ignores the expert advice of NSF officials on the actual nature of the reproducibility challenges (including how much these challenges vary across fields), the proactive steps NSF is already taking with input from their expert advisory committees, and how the Academies might best be helpful on this topic.
(emphasis added) 
It passed 217 to 205, with 23 Republicans joining Democrats to oppose it.

Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) offered an amendment to strike the provision in the bill requiring a comptroller general report identifying duplicative climate science related research across federal agencies.

In speaking in favor of his amendment, Rep. Lowenthal explained, "A basic tenet of science is that you have to reproduce scientific results...Now Congress is trying to legislate changes to the scientific method. And I think that's a shame."

The amendment failed 187 to 236.

One Democrat joined Republicans in voting against it: Collin Peterson (MN-07).

Five Republicans joined Democrats in voting for it:

Carlos Curbelo (FL-26)
Bob Dold (IL-10)
Chris Gibson (NY-19)
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27)
David Reichert (WA-08)

Don Beyer (VA-08) offered an amendment to strike the provision eliminating "reductions of energy-related emissions, including greenhouse gases" from the goals of ARPA-E.

It failed 190 to 232.

7 Republicans joined Democrats here.

Carlos Curbelo (FL-26)
Bob Dold (IL-10)
Chris Gibson (NY-19)
John Katko (NY-24)
Elise Stefank (NY-21)
Chris Stewart (UT-02)
Glenn Thompson (PA-05)

Eddie B. Johnson (TX-30) offered an amendment to strike the provision of the bill that places restrictions on the hosting or attendance of scientific and technical conferences and trade events. In the minority dissent above, Rep. Johnson explained the danger of this provision: "Specifically, Sec. 106 represents a misguided and potentially dangerous attempt to impose a level of political review on NSF's gold-standard merit-review system, thus encouraging researchers, peer-reviewers, and NSF program officers alike to play it safe, discouraging high-risk research and out-of-the-box thinking that is essential to the progress of science."

It failed 177 to 243.

173 Democrats and 4 Republicans voted for it. 9 Democrats and 234 Republicans voted against it.

Here are the 4 Republicans:

Carlos Curbelo (FL-26)
Bob Dold (IL-10)
Steve Stivers (OH-15)
Pat Tiberi (OH-12)

Here are the 9 Democrats:

Jim Costa (CA-16)
John Garamendi (CA-03)
Gwen Graham (FL-02)
Dan Lipinski (IL-03)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)

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