Social and Behavioral Sciences Finding Support on Capitol Hill

July 29, 2014

by Paula Skedsvold  

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is expected to release this week the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014, its bill to reauthorize programs at the National Science Foundation and other federal science agencies.  FABBS has been discussing the bill with Committee staff over the past 10 months, and the new bill is a solid endorsement of NSF and the full range of research it supports. 

According to a “discussion draft” provided to FABBS and others last week, the bill would authorize substantial increases in NSF funding over the next five years, from $7.6 billion in FY 2015 to $9.9 billion in FY 2019.  NSF funding currently stands at approximately $7.2 billion. In addition, the draft bill specifically highlights the contributions of social and behavioral sciences:

 “The Foundation’s investments in social, behavioral, and economic research have addressed challenges, including—

(a) in medicine, matching organ donors to patients, leading to a dramatic growth in paired kidney transplants;

(b) in policing, implementing predictive models that help to yield significant reductions in crime;

(c) in resource allocation, developing theories underlying the Federal Communications Commission spectrum auction, which has generated over $60,000,000,000 in revenue;

(d) in disaster preparation and recovery, identifying barriers to effective disaster evacuation strategies;

(e) in national defense, assisting U.S. troops in cross-cultural communication and in identifying threats;

(f) in areas such as economics, education, cybersecurity, transportation, and the national defense, supporting informed decision-making in foreign and domestic policy…” 

Committee Chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller, is retiring this year and wanted to craft a strong COMPETES bill that would lay a foundation for the next five years and help position U.S. science for the future. This bill does that.

According to Senate Committee staff, the bill will likely be marked up by the full Committee in September. However, the bill is not likely to see action on the Senate floor in this Congress. Still, the Senate COMPETES bill signals strong support for science, including the social and behavioral sciences. It stands in contrast to a House bill to reauthorize NSF that most in the science community opposed and that cut authorized funding for NSF’s SBE Directorate by 42%.  The House bill passed the full Committee and awaits action on the House floor.

Given the limited time left on the legislative calendar for this Congress, as well as competing priorities, NSF reauthorization may have to wait. Hopefully, any new bills will be able to garner bipartisan support.

Meanwhile, Congress must wrap up a spending plan for next fiscal year by September 30, 2014.  At the end of this week, Congress leaves for a five-week recess. Upon their return in September, Congress is expected to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund federal government programs through the election and likely into December.

The CR will provide some time to negotiate an omnibus bill for FY 2015. Starting positions will likely be the bills that have passed either body or, in their absence, committees. For NSF, the House passed legislation providing a 3.3% increase to the agency, while also avoiding cuts to the SBE Directorate.  The Senate Appropriations Committee, in comparison, provided a 1.16% increase for NSF, but the bill was pulled from the Senate floor, reportedly due to disagreement over how amendments would be handled. Prior to Senate floor action, however, Senator Tom Coburn filed an amendment, similar to one passed in FY 2013, that would place restrictions on any political science research funded by NSF.

Neither chamber has passed a bill to fund NIH; however, the Senate Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Committee approved a bill that would provide a 2% increase for NIH for FY 2015. The increase, combined with the $1billion increase in FY 2014, would fully restore NIH’s sequestration cut. The House has not acted on a bill to fund NIH.

With the upcoming elections, Congress will likely be eager to pass a “clean” CR in September. For the time being, it appears that the social and behavioral sciences will be able to survive the threatened cuts. The work of FABBS, our colleagues across the sciences, and you – individual scientists who are weighing in -- is making a difference.  Let’s stay vigilant into the next Congress.