Senate Holds Hearing on Research’s Contributions to the Economy, Congress Continues Deliberations over FY 2020 Budget

November 6, 2019

Last month, the newly formed subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee convened a hearing to discuss “the role that research and innovation play in ensuring U.S. leadership in the global economy.” With jurisdiction that includes the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the subcommittee invited witnesses: Diane Souvaine, chair of the National Science Board (NSB) and a computer science professor at Tufts University; Sethuraman Panchanathan, NSB member and chief research officer at Arizona State University; Rebecca Blank, a former deputy secretary of commerce and chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and David Shaw, former director of NOAA’s Northern Gulf Institute and provost at Mississippi State University. Witnesses spoke of the need for predictable and increased funding for basic science and research and development, citing concerns that the U.S. will continue to lose ground internationally if we do not adequately invest in basic science. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who chairs the subcommittee, was one of the sponsors of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, the most recent legislation to reauthorize NSF and NIST.

With the deadline just over two weeks away, the advocacy community is urging Congress to pass a full-year budget and warning them about the negative impact of FY 2020 funding delays on research. FABBS joined 305 organizations, institutions, and businesses in signing a letter to the House and Senate Appropriation Committees. In addition to pressing for “quick enactment” of the FY 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill, which provides “robust, sustained funding for medical research,” the letter explained that “CRs create inefficiencies and uncertainty for both the agency and scientists across the country.”

As of press time, the “four corners” of the Appropriations committee — House and Senate Chair and Ranking members — were scheduled to meet on Tuesday, November 12, and they remain hopeful that they will be able to reach an agreement.

On October 31, the Senate passed, with a vote of 84-9, its first batch of overdue spending bills for the current fiscal year. HR 3055 contains four bills, including Commerce-Justice-Science (S 2584) – which contains the National Science Foundation. Unfortunately, the progress ended there. A party-line vote in the Senate meant insufficient support to consider a second spending package of four bills (H.R. 2740), which includes spending for the National Institutes of Health and the Institute of Education Sciences.

Furthermore, the House and Senate have failed to make any progress on resolving differences in their top-line spending allocations for the fiscal year that began on October 1. President Trump has refused to commit to avoiding a government shutdown when the current CR expires on November 21. This is extremely concerning as many will recall the partial shutdown last year that included NSF.