On 13 March 2014, the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology approved legislation to reauthorize the programs of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The “Frontiers in Research, Science and Technology Act of 2013” would set recommended funding levels for NSF for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. H.R. 4186 would also change a number of policies at NSF, including requiring certification of grants as fulfilling one of six broad goals and limiting support for scientists who have received more than five years of NSF support.

Democrats on the panel expressed concerns with several provisions of the law and offered more than a dozen amendments to improve the bill. About half of the amendments were agreed to by the subcommittee, including expanding the NSF master teaching fellowship to include computer science and funding a study on the role of university-based business incubators in economic development.

One of the major issues debated during the mark-up was funding levels for the various research directorates within NSF. At $150 million, the proposed authorization level for the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) is well below the current funding level of $257 million. Ranking member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) successfully offered an amendment to increase the authorization for SBE to $200 million, even though he noted that this was still inadequate. Lipinski also offered an amendment to strip directorate funding levels from the bill, but it was rejected by voice vote. Past NSF authorization laws have not included this level of detail for funding.

Subcommittee chairman Larry Buschon (R-IN), a sponsor of the bill, offered to work with Democrats to improve the legislation in regards to two other issues. One is the proposed cap on salaries for temporary staff who retain their university appointments during their tenure at NSF (aka ‘rotators’). The other issue is a new requirement for researchers to sign a statement that they will not misrepresent their research findings.

A group of 75 scientific organizations and universities, including the American Institute of Biological Sciences, sent a letter to the committee to express “serious concerns” with the legislation. Read the full letter at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20140312firstact_markup.html.


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