After a marathon day-long session during which nearly 60 amendments were considered, the House Science and Technology Committee approved a reauthorization of the American COMPETES Act (HR 5116) on 28 April 2010. The Committee ultimately passed a version of the bill by a 29-8 vote.
The most significant change to the legislation came from Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), sponsor of the bill. His “manager’s” amendment decreased the authorization levels for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE Science) by 10 percent from the levels specified in the bill at the time of introduction. This change was prompted by bipartisan concerns about the high potential cost of the legislation, which would increase funding authorizations for these agencies over the next five years by maintaining the doubling path established by the 2007 COMPETES Act. Authorized funding levels are specified through fiscal year (FY) 2015, when the NSF could receive, if appropriated, $10.2 billion. Although authorizations are not a guarantee of future funding, they provide guidelines for appropriators during the annual formulation of agencies budgets.
“This funding trajectory is not as steep as the bill enacted in 2007 and it is not as shallow as the president’s budget request,” said Rep. Gordon. “The funding path provides a modest cushion above the president’s request [for FY 2011] in the event our deficits come down and more funds are available. At the same time, we provide a stable, sustainable, and achievable set of authorization levels across the agencies in the bill. These levels are lower than I would like them, but I believe they are practical considering our current budget deficits. At a time of flat discretionary budgets, a seven percent annual growth rate allows for continued progress in getting our research programs back on a path to be the best in the world.”
The Committee also approved a number of other amendments, including a provision intended to reduce the gender gap in the sciences, and the creation of a program at NSF to promote student internships with science employers. Several amendments that would have further cut funding authorizations or stripped the bill of provisions related to climate research were rejected.
The bill could be voted on by the full House of Representatives as early as this week, according to Science Committee staff.
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