The House Science and Technology Committee is expected to consider (“mark-up”) legislation on 28 April 2010 that would reauthorize the America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science) Act. On 22 April, Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) introduced HR 5116, which is a combination of legislative proposals developed by the panel’s various subcommittees.

As introduced, HR 5116 is intended to foster innovation, support scientific research, and improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education by boosting federal investments in the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE Science). Although the Committee has not settled on budget authorization levels for these agencies, some speculate that NSF may be kept on a doubling path.

Within the proposed authorization for NSF, several new programs would be created. At least five percent of the Research and Related Accounts (R&RA) budget would be directed to high-risk, high-reward basic research. Scientists that collaborate on an interdisciplinary research project could receive up to $5 million in a single grant. NSF could also award cash prizes for innovation to teams that are the first to develop a solution for a pressing problem.

Research infrastructure would benefit under the current version of HR 5116. Although no funding levels are specified, HR 5116 expresses the sense of Congress that NSF should fund research infrastructure at 24 to 27 percent of the agency’s total budget. This funding range is consistent with the recommendations from the National Science Board report, “Science and Engineering Infrastructure for the 21st Century.”

In recent weeks, some members of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) have requested that the House Science and Technology Committee include a provision in the reauthorization of the COMPETES Act addressing natural science collections. For instance, Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance), The Field Museum, American Museum of Natural History, and the Tulane University Museum of Natural History have requested that the Committee include language that would reflect the policy objectives of the NSC Alliance proposed Presidential Executive Order on Scientific Collections (see http://nscalliance.org/?p=262). Although falling short of this request, HR 5116 does include a provision that would direct the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to work with all relevant federal agencies to develop policies on the use, access, and preservation of federal scientific collections. Part of this interagency process would be the establishment of an online clearinghouse for public access to the digitized contents of federal collections.

Several reforms to K-12, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral education and training programs have also been proposed. NSF would be directed to balance their support for the Graduate Research Fellowship and Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. The programs’ budgets would be required to increase or decrease at the same rate each year, although the funding levels for the programs would not necessarily be the same. Additionally, two new postdoctoral fellowships would be created - one in STEM education research and the other a more traditional scientific research fellowship. Additionally, institutions of higher education could receive competitive grants to improve undergraduate and graduate education. These funds could be used for the development of interdisciplinary courses, programs, or research opportunities; mentoring programs; programs to improve teaching and mentoring skills of faculty and graduate students; and professional development opportunities for graduate students.

Lastly, HR 5116 would establish an interagency committee to coordinate the policies of federal science agencies related to the dissemination and stewardship of federally funded research, including peer-reviewed publications and digital data. Although the working group would not be required to develop such public access policies, it would be charged with ensuring a uniform set of standards for data and publications when such policies are created. The inclusion of this language may be to ensure adequate stakeholder input in the process commenced by OSTP to create a public access policy. In comments submitted to OSTP in January 2010, AIBS called for broader involvement of the scientific publishing community.

 


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