While the government shutdown concentrated on the budget and debt ceiling, many bills remained stalled in the legislative pipeline. Here are a few pieces of legislation that may help or hinder scientific progress:
Next Generation Research Act
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., in September filed a bill to support young researchers. While well-intentioned and supportive of existing programs for young investigators, this legislation is vague in its proposals of new initiatives. The bill proposes preparing a report, to be completed no later than five years from the bill’s enactment, to identify the barriers preventing young researchers from progressing successfully into academic positions. The idea is to generate new policies from the report; however, within five years, the climate of the field may have changed dramatically. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and may be referred to the House for a vote.
The U.S. Senate passed a complex, comprehensive immigration-reform bill in June. For workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the bill would remove certain visa limitations for noncitizens receiving graduate degrees, increase the number of H1-B work visas and establish an education and training account that would fund scholarships for low-income STEM students through an increase in the H1-B visa employer application fee. Overall, the bill would increase the number of foreign-born scientists with advanced STEM degrees who are allowed to work and live in the U.S. The House has yet to propose its immigration-reform bill due to partisan disagreements, and until it does, this bill is stalled.
America COMPETES Act/Einstein America Act
The America COMPETES Act was enacted during the Bush administration and reauthorized in 2011 to direct the National Science Foundation and other federal funding agencies, excluding the National Institutes of Health, to invest in STEM education and research and development to maintain U.S. global competitiveness. Now the act is up for reauthorization — this time possibly under the name the Einstein America Act. While the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology supported the act in the past, it is now concerned that some objectionable language from the draft High Quality Research Act may end up being included in the reauthorization bill. The HQRA had provisions that would alter the peer-review process at the NSF and other funding agencies, and inclusion of those provisions in the Einstein America Act could be detrimental to the foundations of the grant-review process. We’ll just have to wait and see the bill.
The government shut down after no continuing resolution was agreed upon for fiscal 2014. In FY13, the Budget Control Act resulted in across-the-board cuts for all discretionary spending. Known as sequestration, this decreased the budgets of the NIH, the NSF and other federal science-funding agencies. With the FY14 budget being so contentious, sequestration may be continued for another fiscal year, which would result in more cuts. At this juncture, the best-case scenario would be a FY14 budget that removes sequestration, restoring the funding agencies’ budgets to levels prior to the budget cuts. For the next several months, scientists must make a strong case for the value of their work.