Congress Punts FY 2017 Funding but Passes America COMPETES Successor

Although the 114th Congress did not finalize spending bills for FY 2017, which began 1 October 2016, it did pass a successor bill to the America COMPETES Act in the waning days of the session. President Obama signed the bill into law on 6 January 2017.

The federal government will be funded under a Continuing Resolution through 28 April 2017. Most agencies are funded at current levels, although the bill provides some flexibility for spending on NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System and NASA's Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System to allow the programs to stay on schedule. More information on where R&D funding stands in the current appropriations cycle, including chapters on the U.S. Geological Survey and other geoscience research agencies, is online: Science & Technology in Congress FY 2017 report.

In a surprise move, the Senate and House both passed a bipartisan reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act in the final days of the session. After hearing concern from the scientific community about provisions in the House-passed reauthorization bill, including reductions in funding for geoscience research, the Senate started fresh with listening sessions and workshops and introduced a bipartisan bill led by Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI). The bill passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on 29 June but appeared to have stalled.

Despite large differences between the two bills, the House and Senate were able to identify shared priorities and develop a compromise bill that passed the Senate by unanimous consent on 10 December 2016 and the House on 16 December 2016.
The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084) updates policies at the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. It does not contain any funding authorization levels or other provisions in the House bill that had drawn the ire of the research community.

The bill reaffirms the two merit review criteria used by NSF – intellectual merit and broader impacts. It also contains compromise language to integrate research in the national interest into NSF’s review process.

The bill includes provisions to reduce administrative burdens for researchers and increase commercial opportunities for research. It focuses on strengthening STEM education, increasing representation for women and minorities, and allows federal agencies to use citizen science and crowd sourcing. At NSF, the bill contains new reporting requirements for large facilities, rotators, and scientific misconduct.

The bill highlights the importance of allowing federal scientists to attend scientific conferences and workshops to share their findings and foster collaborative research and requires agencies to clarify their policies regarding federal travel.

"We've worked for more than 18 months with the scientific community, industry, universities, and other interested stakeholders to craft a bill that reflects the needs of America's science and technology enterprise and I will continue to work to ensure their needs are addressed in Congress. The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act has made science bipartisan again, and I look forward to the President signing this legislation into law and helping to keep America competitive across the globe," said Sen. Gardner.
"I was honored to work with Senator Gardner to craft this legislation to help America stay ahead of the curve in our increasingly competitive world," said Senator Peters, Ranking Member of the Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee.

-- Kasey White