U.S. House committee approves FIRST Act

The U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology (SST) Committee on May 28 approved the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology Act (FIRST Act), legislation to reauthorize programs in National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), as well as STEM education programs. The bill (H.R. 4186) falls short of the principles and funding target laid out by a coalition of higher education institutions, industry leaders, and research organizations to close the innovation deficit. It was approved on a party-line vote of 20-16. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) voted in opposition.

The Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities issued statements strongly opposing the bill. The University of Oregon joined the higher education associations in asking for a “no” vote to the bill as written.

The bill would cap overall funding for NSF below the level of inflation, impose new grant conditions on the agency’s peer review system, and target the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) and the Geosciences directorates for significant cuts in authorized funding. During committee consideration, the panel approved an additional $50 million cut in authorized funding for SBE, on top of the $56 million cut in the underlying bill.

The committee made an important improvement in the bill regarding public access. Members approved by voice vote an amendment offered by representatives James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) to lower the embargo period for public access to the results of federally funded research from the basic embargo period of 24 months to 12 months.