Today, Congress returns from their Memorial Day holiday. Much of the political news in the coming months will focus on scandals rather than legislation. However, Congress will be in session for the next two months with a brief break for Independence Day, and they are sure to do some legislating, right? Here is a preview of some of the policy issues we will be following during the D.C. summer.
On May 21, the Senate Judiciary committee passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744). This bill contains provisions that would make it easier for those earning a doctorate in the U.S. in a science, technology, engineering or math field to stay and work in this country. Additionally, the price of H1-B work visas would be increased, and some of the revenue from this fee increase would go towards STEM training programs in the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation. This bill will be brought to the floor of the U.S. Senate in early June. The bill is expected to pass, but it faces an uncertain fate in the U.S. House.
Science agency legislation
At the end of April, the scientific community learned of draft legislation written by the House Science, Space and Technology committee that would impose additional rules on the NSF and its peer-review system. Scientific societies, including ASBMB, have expressed opposition to this draft legislation. As a result, the draft bill, which was supposed to be introduced and marked up in early May, has been in limbo as SST leadership determines the best path forward with the bill. In our discussions with Congressional offices about this bill, we have found SST Democrats to be uniformly opposed to this draft legislation while SST Republicans vary from strong to lukewarm support. Those expressing lukewarm support for the draft bill indicated they were not sure this debate over peer review was a worthy pursuit for the committee, but they were not necessarily willing to go against the will of committee leadership to oppose it.
In addition, the America COMPETES Act, which sets the goals of NSF and a variety of other science agencies, needs to be updated and reauthorized this year. This document has a list of guiding principles that many in the scientific community would like to see embodied in the new COMPETES bill.
Budget sequestration went into effect on March 1 cutting roughly 5 percent from the budgets of nearly every federal agency, including the National Institutes of Health and the NSF. However, this is not the end of federal austerity. The Budget Control Act of 2011 placed spending caps on the government for through 2021. If Congress and the president cannot agree on fiscal 2014 appropriations that result in spending less than the FY14 cap, across-the-board cuts will again be implemented to bring federal spending down to the level of these caps.
The FY14 appropriations need to be in place by the end of the federal fiscal year, Sep. 30. The previous debates in Washington about the federal budget have gone down to the wire, and we expect the FY14 appropriations fight to be no different. Thus, expect this debate to heat up during the two weeks Congress is in session during September. This is when we will find out Congress’ plans for science funding through the next fiscal year.
Stay tuned to the Blotter as we keep up with these and other science-policy issues throughout the summer!