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May 18th, 2010

U.S. science funding at risk because of America COMPETES amendments

Published on May 18th, 2010 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

Credit: Diliff and PNNL

The update to the America COMPETES Act appears to be in trouble, threatening continued expansions of funding for NSF, NIST and DOE. Readers of this blog should contact their Representatives in Congress.

The America COMPETES Act, first signed in 2007, was a big step forward for science R&D in the U.S. and for the first time there was a consensus in Washington, D.C. to double the funding over a 10-year period for NSF, NIST and DOE’s Office of Science (including ARPA-E). As the name implies, the goal was to keep U.S. science programs competitive with the rest of the world by committing the nation to a path of sustained science funding, strong innovation and significant investments in the next generation of scientists and engineers.

The bill, however, was only funded through FY 2010. A bipartisan consensus seemed – until recently – to be in agreement that America COMPETES is worth reauthorizing and expanding this year to keep the agencies on schedule with the budget-doubling pace established in the original bill.

Until last week, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 appeared to be moving on a satisfactory pace through the U.S. House of Representatives. However, a “motion to recommit” (send the bill back to the House’s Science & Technology Committee) was forced in response to an amendment to cut a major section of America COMPETES because of what seems to be politically motivated concerns about “excessive spending.” According to the Alliance for Science and Technology Research in America, the amendment would have frozen all spending on previous levels for NSF, NIST and DOE-OS, eliminated funding for sensible programs, such as the Energy Innovation Hubs and state innovation projects, and ended the authority contained in the bill two years early (FY 2013 instead of FY 2015).

ASTRA and other major science organizations (see for example, the statement from American Physical Society) are urging members of the science and research communities to contact legislators and urge them to support America COMPETES with the funding and programs restored.

The groups say time is of the essence because a new bill – America COMPETES with the cuts restored – may come back to the full House in the next week or soon thereafter.

This bill is critical for the U.S.’s R&D future and I urge you to do what you can to support it.

Adding . . . I found a bit more about the “dirty” trick used to derail this bill. Literally. Apparently, the Congressman who opposed the bill – Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) – introduced a Motion to Recommit (forcing the America COMPETES bill back to committee instead of being approved on the House floor) that contained a totally unrelated provision that would bar the federal government from paying the salaries of employees who’ve been disciplined for viewing pornography at work.

Therefore, representatives who wanted to oppose Hall’s motion would have been framed as being pro-porn. Clever. 126 representatives called Hall’s bluff, but not enough to pass the bill.

America COMPETES supporters will likely insert Hall’s irrelevant ban into the bill and try to bring it up again for approval, but I have no idea what’s to stop Hall or other opponents from doing something similar in the next round. Hall’s hasn’t budged on his opposition to America COMPETES: “[T]his bill spends too much money and goes far beyond the original intent and scope of the COMPETES legislation.”



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