Legislation Could Increase STEM Funding

Introduced into the House on April 22, HR 5116, America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, is an attempt to concentrate federal resources to establish revise, and extend specified STEM programs and engineering, research, and training programs according to the Congressional Research Service. HR 5116 authorizes appropriations for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy for activities of the Office of Science from FY2011 to FY2015. Sponsored by Rep. Barton Gordon (D-TN), the bill has bipartisan support of the measures intended to increase the United States’ competitiveness in the STEM fields, including the research and development of new technology.

Broken into six titles by subject, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 helps create jobs to bolster “science, innovation, and education” in the “short-, mid-, and long-term,” according to a press release from the Committee on Science and Technology. Research funding is also included to help the scientific community in the long run. Originally slated to authorize appropriations totaling around $86B, the bill has the support of more than 140 organizations.

We spoke with Becky Timmons, assistant vice president for Government Relations at the American Council on Education, about the bill and its expected effect on science research in higher education.

Timmons explained, “The America COMPETES Act, when it was first authorized, pulled together several agencies that together support activities related to science, technology, and education. It also tries to focus on promoting the development of competencies in the STEM areas. So the legislation also tried to consolidate and bring together all the little pieces of STEM legislation brought together by Congress.”

The America COMPETES Act “supports all manner of activities” related to science in higher education because the agencies brought together under the Act have supported undergraduates, graduates, doctoral students, postdoctoral positions, and R&D (research and development). Funding is not specifically considered for facility construction and maintenance.

The different pieces of legislation brought together by the Act keeps the need for our continued development in science and technology at the forefront, and also helps contribute to bipartisan support. “The feeling is that by concentrating them they’ll magnify the results and eliminate redundancy and waste among the agencies working on their own,” Timmons stated.

Funding for science, especially in higher education, has been notoriously hard to get and extremely competitive in recent years, but that may not change with the HR 5116. “This won’t completely solve this issue,” Timmons said. “Partly because there have been R&D funding enhancements in the stimulus legislation, and those enhancements are a temporary vehicle.” Once that base funding is gone, new sources of funding will have to be found to sustain higher-level research. Researchers will again see the small pool of funding dry up.

Since its introduction on April 22, HR 5116 has had a rocky start. “It was on the floor first last week and failed to pass, and last week the bill would have provided $86B in funding over five years,” Timmons explained. When it failed to pass, and the bill was sent back to the committee with specific instructions to trim the length of years and the overall costs of the bill.

“So just in a week’s time, it lost not quite half its funding, but about $40B in funding. When it was brought up on the floor this week it also failed to pass because this time around it needed a two-thirds majority… It was short by about 12 votes of that mark. So we’re all waiting to see what the next chapter is going to be.”

The future of HR 5116 is still undecided, but many are hoping that the bill does go through to help support the research and development in STEM fields to make sure the United States is on the leading edge of scientific and technological advances.