On 17 May 2006, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved S. 2802, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act. The final version of the bill passed without a controversial amendment that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) had considered offering. The amendment would have narrowly defined the National Science Foundation's research priorities, as set forth in Section 307 of S. 2802, as "physical science, technology, engineering, and mathematics." The scientific community learned of the proposed amendment a day before the committee debated the bill and launched a broad scale effort to ensure the amendment was not adopted. The concern of many in the policy community was that the amendment would have excluded the natural sciences and the social and behavioral sciences. Of equal concern, however, was that the amendment would have micro-managed the NSF. In the end, a compromise was reached by Senators Hutchison and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). The Hutchison/Lautenberg amendment, which was adopted by the full committee, added "natural sciences" and a provision that makes it clear that the section of the legislation would not limit NSF's ability to fund other areas of research.

The version of S. 2802 unanimously approved by the committee would authorize an increase in NSF's budget from $6.44 billion in FY 2007 to $11.4 billion in FY 2011. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would also receive a funding bump from $639 million in FY 2007 to $936 million by FY 2011. In addition, S. 2802 would authorize graduate research fellowships and grants to expand STEM education programs at the elementary and secondary levels. The measure also contains language that recognizes that ocean and atmospheric science and education will play a role in the effort to advance national innovation and competitiveness. This language was included after an unsuccessful effort by advocates for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to have language included in S. 2802 that would have authorized greater funding for NOAA.

Although S. 2802 has several cosponsors, it is unclear whether the bill will advance past the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) has admitted that the legislation does not yet have enough support to pass a floor vote. The White House has weighed in on the measure expressing "very serious concerns" about the bill due to the number of new programs it would create and the "excessive" increase in NSF and NIST funding authorizations.

 


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