On 31 July, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced legislation to authorize funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for the next five years. The plan would provide a five percent annual increase in the NSF budget through 2019, starting with a $7.65 billion authorization for fiscal year 2015, a significant increase over the $7.3 billion approved by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee in May in the “Frontiers in Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014.”

The Senate bill does not set funding at the NSF directorate level. It does include a statement of support for social and behavioral sciences. The legislation states: “if the United States is to remain innovative and globally competitive, the Foundation must continue to meet its legislative mandate through; (A) robust support for basic research across a wide range of science and engineering fields, including the social, behavioral, and economic sciences.” This is in contrast to the FIRST Act, which would cut social and behavioral science research funding by 40 percent in favor of increases for biology, math, computer, and engineering programs. Congress traditionally has not set funding at the directorate level, instead deferring to agency expertise.

Along with higher funding levels and refraining from setting budgets at the directorate level, there are several other differences between the Senate and House proposals.

  • The Senate legislation authorizes NSF funding through 2019, whereas the House bill only extends reauthorization through 2015.
  • The Senate bill defends the current grant system, stating, “peer review and merit review processes have successfully identified and funded scientifically and societally-relevant research and must be preserved.” In contrast, the House added a requirement that NSF must give priority to projects that have a clear “national interest.”
  • The Senate left out language prohibiting “falsification or fabrication” of research results that had been added by the House. Many in the scientific community viewed the House language as duplicating existing federal authority and signaling a fundamental mistrust of scientists.

The Senate bill, S.257, is expected to be taken up when Congress returns in September after the summer recess.


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