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 bill, S.257, is expected to be taken up when Congress returns in September after the summer recess.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has released a draft funding bill for the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for fiscal year 2015. In general, the Senate would be more generous than the House. For instance, many Interior bureaus would see an increase in funding from the Senate bill and a flat budget from the House bill. The most drastic difference is for EPA, where the House recommended $700 million in reductions, which is 40 times larger than the cuts in the Senate plan.
The bill would provide $1.05 billion for the United States Geological Survey, a 1.4 percent increase. The Ecosystems activity would receive $155.1 million (+$2.3 million). Increased funding would be directed to development of a national ecosystems services framework, support activities for preserving environmental capital, Asian carp monitoring in the Great Lakes region, and research on white nose syndrome in bats. Water Resources would receive $4.1 million in new funding for streamgage research, streamflow information, and groundwater studies.
Other Interior bureaus would benefit under the draft bill. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget would increase by 1.6 percent to $1.5 billion. The National Park Service would see an increase of $71.2 million for a total of $2.6 billion in funding.
The EPA would not be so fortunate. Funding for science and technology would decline by 0.8 percent. Overall funding for the agency would decline by 0.2 percent to $8.2 billion.
The Forest and Rangeland Research program at the Forest Service would remain at the 2014 funding level.
The Smithsonian Institution, which is largely supported by federal funding, would receive a $20.4 million increase. About half of that increase would be distributed among individual museums and centers.
The bill is largely a blueprint and is not expected to progress. It is generally anticipated that Congress will pursue a stopgap funding measure when it returns from its summer recess. Lawmakers will likely be in session for only a few weeks in September before adjourning in advance of the November mid-term elections. Passing a continuing resolution would buy some time before Congress has to pass a catchall funding bill to fund the entire federal government for fiscal year 2015.
The administrative burden for researchers is unchanged since 2005, according to a recent report. A survey of 13,000 principal investigators at universities and research centers in the U.S. found that researchers spend an average of 42 percent of their time on federal projects on administrative requirements rather than on active research. Proposal and report writing; reporting on project finances, personnel, and effort; and compliance with research regulations are the primary time sinks. The full report is available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/cs/groups/pgasite/documents/webpage/pga_087667.pdf.
A group of 70 scientific organizations, including the American Institute of Biological Sciences, have expressed concerns with a bill pending in the U.S. Senate that would further restrict the ability of federal employees to attend conferences. In a letter sent to members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the organizations stated, “The Coburn-Heitkamp substitute to S. 1347, Conference Accountability Act of 2013 would raise existing barriers and perpetuate unintended negative consequences the Administration’s regulations have already imposed on our scientific enterprise and national competitiveness.”
Existing regulations on conferences have resulted in decreased attendance by federal employees and contractors at scientific and technical conferences. Several scientific meetings were canceled in 2013 as a result. The pending bill would likely further diminish turnout.
S. 1347 was approved by the Homeland Security Committee on 30 July 2014.
Read the letter at www.aibs.org/position-statements/2014072970organization.html.
An article in the July 2014 issue of BioScience looks at the impacts of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) changes to the proposal submission process in the Directorate for Biological Sciences. Two programs now require preproposals for a once-a-year submission deadline. NSF estimates that the funding rates for applications to the Division of Environmental Biology and Division of Integrative Organismal Systems is currently on the order of 5 to 8 percent. Many scientists have expressed concerns about the changes, both in terms of declining funding rates and increased workload of reviews. Read the article for free at https://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/64/7/563.full.
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