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NSF & Congress

Senate Commerce Committee Approves American Innovation and Competitiveness Act


June 30, 2016

U.S. Capitol
Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich) introduced S.3084, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, on June 22. The bill would reauthorize programs at NSF, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). It would update the 2010 America COMPETES Act that authorized NSF through fiscal year (FY) 2013. S.3084 reaffirms NSF's two merit review criteria (intellectual merit and broader impacts), and it updates the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) with changes to the award structure and a name change (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). The bill also: recommends NSF add a program to fund mid-scale projects of sizes between the Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) and Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) programs; calls for stronger oversight over the full life-cycle of large-scale research facility projects; seeks reductions in the administrative burdens on federally funded researchers; and expands efforts to broaden participation by women, minorities and persons with disabilities in STEM fields.

On June 29, the Senate Commerce Committee approved several amendments to S.3084, including one to authorize appropriations for NSF of $7.51 billion for FY 2017 and $7.81 billion for FY 2018, and gave final Committee approval to the bill. Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said in a statement, "The Committee's passage of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act puts important enhancements for federal research and our economic competitiveness one step closer to becoming law." Details are available at Congress.gov.

Earlier in June, the Senate began floor consideration of S.2837, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, but it became embroiled in the debate over gun reform. Passage is now uncertain.

House Actions

On June 16, the House passed H.R. 5049, the NSF Major Research Facility Reform Act of 2016 by a vote of 412 to 9. The bill would implement changes to NSF's management of major research facility projects; for details, see the April 29 highlight.

Also on June 16, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a hearing on SBIR/STTR Reauthorization: A Review of Technology Transfer. In his testimony, NSF Assistant Director for Engineering Pramod Khargonekar described SBIR as an integral part of NSF's strategy to "stimulate innovation and address societal needs through the commercialization of the results of fundamental research." He opposed proposals to increase the yearly set-aside percentages for the programs. "We do not see annual increases in the set-asides for these programs as justified, especially at the cost of others, when the overall budget of the agency is flat."

The House and Senate will be back in session next week.

 

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