June 2010

America COMPETES Passes Committee

Bart Gordon
House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon, D-Tenn.

Some Republicans Try to Limit Science Spending


On April 28, the House Science and Technology Committee passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, a bill that re-examines and redefines the role of several key scientific agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. But, even as the bill passed 29 to 8 with overwhelming bipartisan support, several Republican members offered amendments to reduce science spending.

“This bill is a big deal,” said Chairman Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., in his opening remarks, characterizing the legislation as “an important step in our innovation agenda” affecting businesses and universities across the country.

The COMPETES bill would reauthorize the activities of the NSF, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology and the DOE Office of Science. If maintained, the recommended funding increases would double the budget of the NSF and the Office of Science over the next 10 years.

“The path is simple,” Gordon said. “Research leads to innovation. Innovation leads to economic development and good paying jobs.” Gordon said that over the past 20 years, the U.S. technology edge had slipped and that reversing that trend would require immediate additional investments.

But, several Republican members were concerned about the spending levels authorized in the bill.

U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., offered an amendment that would reduce spending and the length of the bill’s authorization from five years to three.

“This is a common-sense amendment,” Broun said. He emphasized that eliminating two years of authorization would help the committee to maintain better oversight of the programs outlined in the bill.

A few Republicans supported Broun’s efforts. U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., offered two of his own similar amendments to control spending.

“We’re bankrupting our country,” said Diaz-Balart. Referring to recent international fiscal crises, Diaz-Balart continued, “We don’t want to be the next Greece or Argentina.”

U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, said he supported Diaz-Balart’s amendment and applauded it for trimming more than $1 billion in authorized spending.

But, the committee rejected Broun and Diaz-Balart’s arguments.

“This resolution undermines science,” said U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., referring to Broun’s amendment. Calling the amendment largely “specious,” Baird said uncertainty about future science funding threatens long-term research projects.

For more information

• The text of America COMPETES, as well as remarks and press releases.

• For a PDF section-by-section description of the bill.

• Read Kyle M. Brown’s Twitter feed on the hearing @kyle_m_brown.

Gordon highlighted his efforts to compromise with members who were reluctant to increase spending, saying that he had reduced the authorized spending levels by 10 percent from an earlier version of the bill.

Gordon also argued that shortening the number of years authorized in the bill actually would not save money because such amendments only delay decisions about how much should be spent in subsequent years.

Other Republican members supported Gordon’s proposed spending levels.

“As a true conservative, we need to be investing in what’s best for our children’s future,” said U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.

“We are losing the technology battle,” Bartlett continued. “If we had done this 20 years ago, we’d be competing better.”

While Bartlett spoke favorably of the bill’s scientific investment, he refused to vote against his fellow Republicans, instead voting “present” on Broun and Diaz-Balart’s amendments.

U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., spoke in support of Gordon’s more robust funding proposal. She and U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich., voted with the majority of the committee against Broun and Diaz-Balart’s amendments.

With the committee’s approval, COMPETES moves to the U.S. House floor.


Competes Update: Porn Amendment

On May 13, as House Republicans sought to capitalize on public outrage against recent scandals at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Science Foundation, Democratic leaders removed the America COMPETES Act from the House floor after Republicans successfully attached a controversial amendment that slashed and eliminated authorized funding for several science agencies and programs. 

“The Minority was willing to trade American jobs and our nation’s economic competitiveness for the chance to run a good political ad,” said House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon, D-Tenn. in a statement.

In addition to reducing science agency budgets and eliminating many new programs, the amendment, introduced by U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Science and Technology Committee, barred funds authorized under COMPETES from paying the salary of any federal employee who had been disciplined for viewing pornography at work.  The inspector general of the NSF recently identified several instances of NSF employees viewing pornography on the government’s time.

“We’re all opposed to federal employees watching pornography,” but this amendment was about “gutting funding for our science agencies,” Gordon said.

While Gordon hopes to bring COMPETES back up in the House, “the timing is unclear,” he said.

Kyle M. Brown (kmbrown@asbmb.org) is an ASBMB science policy fellow.

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