The House Appropriations Committee approved a $51.4 billion Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2016. The draft bill would cut $257 million, or roughly 16%, for the Geoscience and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorates at the National Science Foundation (NSF), $90 million from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Earth Sciences and $30 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate science. More information about the proposed House allocations is provided on Ocean Leadership’s documents page: NOAA, NSF, NASA, and Navy. The full House of Representatives is expected to consider the measure next month, while the Senate is anticipating marking up its FY2016 CJS spending bill in the beginning of June.
The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806) was adopted by the House floor with a 217 to 205 vote with no Democrats supporting the measure and 23 Republicans voting in opposition. Democrats largely criticized the bill’s “flat” funding levels, “antagonistic” and distrustful language towards NSF and the nation’s scientists, as well as the use of political language to influence the direction of scientific work, and the bill’s approach of specifying funding at the NSF directorate level. Cuts in STEM education programs also raised the ire among several Democrats who argued for a need to invest and support STEM education programs, as well as improve efforts to systematically address women and minority problems in STEM fields. Ocean Leadership expressed our concerns with the proposed legislation through letters submitted on behalf of several like-minded science organizations.
Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced bi-partisan legislation to reauthorize the energy programs of the America COMPETES Act. While the House version of America COMPETES Act would flat fund science programs (at the top line) through FY 2017, the bipartisan Senate version of the energy component would provide funding through to FY 2020, with steady yearly increases in funding and boost funding by four percent for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) DOE. Additionally, the White House has threatened to veto H.R. 1806.
This month, science and innovation bills breezed through the House by voice vote. The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2015 (H.R. 1561), introduced by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), intends to improve the NOAA’s weather research through a focused program of investment on affordable and attainable advances in observational, computing, and modeling capabilities to support substantial improvement in weather forecasting and prediction of high impact weather events, to expand commercial opportunities for the provision of weather data. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) introduced the Research and Development Efficiency Act (H.R. 1119) to improve the efficiency of Federal research and development. The bill does not eliminate reporting requirements, but would reduce redundant regulations. The Science Prize Competitions Act (H.R. 1162), introduced by Rep. Donald Beyer (D-VA), gained bipartisan support in the House and would make technical changes to provisions authorizing prize competitions under the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980. International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2015 (H.R. 1156), introduced by Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), would authorize the establishment of a body under the National Science and Technology Council to identify and coordinate international science and technology cooperation opportunities. Rep. Randy Hultgren’s (R-IL) American Super Computing Leadership Act (H.R. 874) would amend the Department of Energy High-End Computing Revitalization Act of 2004 to improve the high-end computing research and development program of the Department of Energy. The bill would improve such programs by empowering the Secretary of Energy to significantly increase the computing power that is accessible to scientists from Federal agencies as well as industry and academia. Lastly, The American Research and Competitiveness Act of 2015 (H.R. 880), introduced by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to simplify and make permanent the tax credit for qualified research expenses that expired at the end of 2014.
Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (the nation’s top fisheries law), Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act (H.R. 1335), was debated and passed the House Committee on Natural Resources by a 21-14 party-line vote. H.R. 1335 was introduced in an effort to provide flexibility for fishery managers and stability for fishermen. However, opponents claim it would undermine the progress made to conserve and rebuild fish populations. Some scientists and fishermen fear that H.R. 1335 would compromise the scientific integrity of the nation’s top fisheries law by discarding certain scientific provisions, such as the 10-year recovery timeline for depleted fish stocks. Additionally, there are concerns that H.R. 1335 would weaken bedrock environmental laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.
In the Senate, education, fisheries treaties implementation, IUU fisheries, and seasonal forecasting bills gained bipartisan support in a markup by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The bipartisan Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math (STEM) Education Act of 2015 (H.R. 1020) and the various fisheries implementation related bills (North Pacific Fisheries Convention Implementation Act, S. 1335; Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Amendments Act, S.1251; and South Pacific Fisheries Convention Implementation Act, S. 1336) were adopted and reported favorably without amendments. H.R. 1020 would define STEM education to include computer science, and to support existing STEM education programs at the NSF. S. 1335 and S. 1336 would implement treaties ratified by the Senate last year to manage certain North and South Pacific fisheries, while S. 1251 would implement the Amendment to the Convention on Future Multilateral Cooperation in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries. The Seasonal Forecasting Improvement Act (S. 1331) and the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act (S.1334) were also marked up and passed out of committee with minor amendments. S. 1331 proposes to help enhance commerce through improved seasonal forecasts and encourage the development of usable, reliable, and timely seasonal forecasts. S. 1334 will ensure fairness for U.S. fishermen on the water and in the marketplace, and establish uniform procedures and penalties for the enforcement of High Seas Fishing Laws.
The House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing to explore the consequences of politically driven science; science manipulated by agencies for their own purposes. Notably, there were no representatives from the NPS or FWS present to respond to the accusations and concerns of witnesses, nor were there any scientists included on the panel. The full Committee Ranking Member Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) accused the Subcommittee of unfairly attacking science. Similarly, Dr. Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science and Director of Graduate Studies at Harvard University, agreed that witnesses seemed to be trying to cast doubt on environmental science, arguing that is politically driven and that it should not be used to make important decisions.