Subcommittee Discusses FIRST Act

Nov 13, 2013
Subcommittee Discusses FIRST Act

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a hearing to review the proposed discussion draft of the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act and to discuss federal research and education priorities for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and interagency science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs.  Testifying before the Subcommittee were Dr. Richard Buckius, Vice President for Research at Purdue University; Dr. Daniel Sarewitz, Co-Director of the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, and Professor of Science and Society at Arizona State University; Dr. Timothy Killeen, President of the Research Foundation and Vice Chancellor for Research at the State University of New York; and Mr. James Brown, Executive Director for the STEM Education Coalition. 

Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) emphasized the importance of investments in research and development.  He said, “We have all seen the headlines about how our competitors are pouring resources into R&D.  They may not be ahead of us now in total investment, but China and others are already far outpacing us in R&D growth.  As we all know, these are long-term investments, and failing to adequately invest now will catch up with us when we see slower job growth…If we continue to let science funding stagnate across the Federal Government the long term effects on our scientific competitiveness will be catastrophic.  Agencies and universities won’t be able to plan, some of the best and brightest will give up and leave their labs, and the younger generation will see what their mentors are up against and decide against a career as a researcher altogether.  A witness before this committee recently said that if he were a young scientist today in a foreign country he doesn’t think he’d decide to come to America to study and stay to do research, as he had done early in his career.”

Witnesses and Subcommittee Democrats expressed a number of concerns with the legislation including the lack of provisions to help spur regional innovation; the lack of authorization funding levels; the changes to NSF’s merit review process; the lack of a broadening participation provision to encourage women and minorities to enter STEM fields; and the long embargo period in the public access provision.

Mr. Lipinski said, “I understand very well that America faces a serious debt threat and that we need to make some tough decisions; but almost all of these are well outside the purview of this Committee or the scope of today’s hearing.  The Chairman’s intent is to hold off on including authorization levels until we have a budget deal.  I hope that we can use the time before the budget deadline to more fully discuss some of the policy proposals contained in the draft, and I also hope this does not mean that we intend to let budget negotiators dictate to this committee what the appropriate levels of funding are for federal science agencies.  Since we are an authorizing committee, we should be leading the discussion about authorization levels that reflect a smart and balanced approach to making sure we remain strong and competitive in science, technology, and innovation.  I look forward to working with the Chairman and all of my colleagues to that end.”  Mr. Lipinski also emphasized the need for more hearings on this bill.

Discussing the STEM Education Advisory panel in Title II of the draft bill, Mr. Brown said, “[N]otably absent from the mission of the Advisory Panel is a specific charge to address diversity, inclusion, and equity issues. One of the central goals of our Coalition has been to support innovative initiatives to encourage more of our best students, especially those from underrepresented or disadvantaged groups populations, to study in STEM fields – an important goal of any federal STEM strategy.”

Dr. Buckius said of the public access policies, “We fully support the public access to the results of federally-funded research which is central to the mission of higher education. For nearly a decade, Purdue University, together with others in the higher education community, have promoted open access policies for federally- and state-funded research output to better manage the intellectual assets of higher education in support of teaching and learning. The publication delay time for public access is a key point and various sound arguments have been provided, yet it is important to proceed with the implementation as soon as possible and with a shorter publication delay.”

Dr. Killeen, said of the legislation, “If I have a concern, it’s mostly the message that this bill will send out to the world, in fact. As my testimony indicated, I hope it’s a vibrant, enthusiastic, ‘let’s take on the 21st century,’ United States can-do kind of [legislation] rather than one that seeks to find the constraints and stiffen the sinews. My personal experience with NSF is that it is a magnificent National asset. We don’t want to throttle it back, nor do we want to have the self-policing to where there are clear infractions of integrity and accountability. This is the delicate balance that you have to face.”

Ranking Member of the Full Committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said, “While all of the feuding about the budget goes on around us, the Science Committee is one place where we should be able to agree more than we disagree. We did so successfully for many years, even during divided government, and it is my hope that we can do so again.  Unfortunately, the draft legislation before us today leaves me puzzled… There are some provisions on which we can agree. However, it troubles me that this draft seems to be dominated in both tone and volume by everything that some of my colleagues believe NSF and scientists are doing wrong, and contains very little in the way of a vision for the future… I worry that this discussion draft reflects a lack of imagination that will not help this nation meet the competitive challenge we face. As we move forward, I would be very happy to work with the Chairman and with all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to craft a bipartisan bill that truly sets a vision for continued U.S. leadership in science and technology.”