On 17 December, the United States Senate unanimously passed legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act. The measure represents a compromise reached between the two chambers of Congress. Although the House of Representatives passed the legislation last May, the bill stalled in the Senate due to concerns raised by some Republicans over the cost of the plan. A reduction in funding authorizations and other changes paved the way for passage last Friday.

HR 5116, as passed by the Senate, would authorize funding for three years for research and education programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy Office of Science. It would also reinforce the roles of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

One of the key compromises sought by Senate Republicans was the cost of the bill. Ultimately, funding authorizations for NSF and other science agencies were reduced. For instance in fiscal year 2013, the Senate recommended $8.3 billion for NSF versus the $8.76 billion recommended by the House. Additionally, the House had sought to authorize funding levels for five years, but the Senate would only commit to a three year authorization.

Notably for the natural science collections community, the Senate bill includes language regarding the management, use, and access to federal scientific collections. HR 5116 would require the Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a policy to improve access to, and preservation of, federally held scientific collections. Significantly, the Senate bill would require that the plan be developed in consultation with non-federal collections.

The bill must be passed again by the House before it can go to the President’s desk for his signature. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has indicated that the bill could be brought to the House floor for a vote as early as tomorrow.

Interested individuals may send a letter to their Representative asking that s/he approve HR 5116 this year. Letters may be sent using the AIBS Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=20938511.


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