NSF Reauthorization Bill Advances in Senate

The long-awaited Senate bill to reauthorize programs at the National Science Foundation and other science agencies was released in late June and greeted with cautious enthusiasm by the science and higher education communities.

S.3084, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act

  • reaffirms NSF’s merit-based peer review process;
  • reduces administrative burdens on researchers;
  • addresses broadening participation of women and minorities in STEM;
  • and directs the Office of Management and Budget to revise policies on government officials attending scientific workshops.

In addition, the bill includes provisions on strengthening basic science research, including the “role of the human factor in cybersecurity and the interplay of computers and humans and the physical world.’’

The original bill did not authorize science funding, but an amendment in the nature of a substitute was passed during full committee markup to provide a four-percent increase in authorized funding for NSF in FY 2018.  Authorized funding levels express the Committee’s view about the level of funding that NSF needs to accomplish its mission, although political and financial constraints may play a role in the funding recommendation. The Coalition for National Science Funding, an alliance of over 130 organizations, expressed its appreciation to the Senate Committee for the bill, but encouraged a longer authorization bill that sets aspirational funding targets as the bill moves forward.

The bill was approved by the full Committee, and awaits action on the Senate floor. Given that the Senate will be in recess for seven weeks this summer and another five weeks this Fall, the opportunities to get the bill passed this Congressional session are limited.

Still, the bill is an excellent example of a bipartisan effort. A year ago, with encouragement from Senator John Thune (R-SD), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Committee members Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) began seeking input from science, higher education, and industry stakeholders before developing the bill.