On Thursday, May 13 the House of Representatives voted to recommit the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 on a 292-126 vote. In response, House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) requested House leadership to pull the bill (H.R. 5116) from consideration. The request came as a surprise after more than 40 hearings held on this bill.
The major disagreement surrounded an amendment proposal by Ranking House Science & Technology Committee Member Ralph Hall (R-TX), who had previously warned about what he called “excessive spending” contained in the bill. Rep. Hall’s proposal included freezing all funding to FY 2010 appropriated levels for the National Science Foundation (NSF), DOE Office of Science, and the National Institutes of Standards & Technology (NIST), as well as striking any new programs added to the original COMPETES Act, which would end several new initiatives like Energy Innovation Hubs and other prototype programs at those three agencies affected. In addition, the amendment would end the authorization at FY 2013 rather than FY 2015.
House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) stated in a press release that the Motion to Recommit would gut funding for science agencies on top of the 10.3 percent reduction from the bill as introduced that was adopted at his Committee’s Markup. With regard to the future of the Act, he said: “I believe in American leadership, and I think COMPETES is too important to let die. I would like to see it brought up again, but timing is unclear.” Supporters of the bill and organizations like ASTRA think the bill may come back for vote as soon as this week, probably under a different bill number, with the funding restored and the programs restored.
Advocates for science, technology and education have increasingly released reports that support action in favor of more and better programs and policies for innovation. For example, the Science Coalition released a report last week on “Sparking Economic Growth: How federally funded university research creates innovation,” which highlights 100 successful examples of companies that are based on ideas produced as result of federal investments in basic research. These success stories include industry leaders (e.g., Google, Genentech, Cisco Systems, iRobot) as well as newcomers (e.g., A123 Systems and GeoVax). The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC) in turn released a report last week highlighting “The Pivotal Role of Government Investment in Basic Research.” The report suggests that because basic research plays a critical role in sparking innovation, it may be wise for the government to increase its expenditures towards basic research now.
Ralph Hall is a smart and experienced legislator who has been an advocate for science most of his career. As budget deficits and America’s fiscal woes become more evident to Americans, we can expect more politics around sound policy. The media positioned this as an anti-pornagraphy position. Stay tuned for more not just on the next chapter for COMPETES and its implications for start-ups, but on the weird and wonderful workings of this great nation’s legislative process.