House approves America COMPETES, Senate working on a different approach

On May 20, the US House last week approved the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 1806), legislation about which many institutions of higher education and academic and scientific organizations have expressed serious concern. The bill passed by a vote of 217 to 205, with no Democratic support. Some saw the vote as closer than expected with twenty-three Republicans voting against the measure.

The bill is a two-year authorization for the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, National Institutes of Standards and Technology and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. It would cut authorized funding for the NSF social, behavioral, and economic sciences directorate by 45% and the NSF geosciences directorate by 8%. In a departure from past authorizations, the bill sets funding authorizations at the directorate level, giving Congress greater control over the agency's funding priorities. For DOE, the bill would significantly cut funding for energy efficiency and renewable programs as well as ARPA-E, and bar the use of DOE-supported R&D activities by federal regulatory authorities. 

The Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities issued statements opposing   H.R. 1806 when the bill was introduced in April. 

A bipartisan group of US Senators, led by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE), is taking a different, piecemeal approach to reauthorization of the COMPETES Act with a new bill that reauthorizes just the energy research portions of the law (S. 1398 ). The bill, introduced on May 20, is a five-year reauthorization of the DOE Office of Science and ARPA-E that would raise authorized spending for basic energy research by four percent a year. The measure will likely be considered by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this summer as part of a broad energy package. 

The Association of American Universities issued a statement of support for S. 1398.